2008 National Book Award Winner

Mark Doty

Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems


Mark Doty's 2008 National Book Award Ceremony Acceptance Speech from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.

Mark Doty reading at the 2008 National Book Award Finalists Reading from National Book Foundation on Vimeo.


Photo © Star Black.


Elegant, plain-spoken, and unflinching, Mark Doty's poems in Fire to Fire gently invite us to share their ferocious compassion. With their praise for the world and their fierce accusation, their defiance and applause, they combine grief and glory in a music of crazy excelsis. In this generous retrospective volume a gifted young poet has become a master.


Mark Doty’s seven books of poems and four books of nonfiction prose have been honored by the National Book Critics Circle Award, the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Nonfiction, the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, a Whiting Writers Award, a Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Writer’s Award and, in the United Kingdom, the T.S. Eliot Prize. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the Ingram Merrill Foundation, and the Dorothy and Lewis B. Cullman Center for Scholars and Writers at the New York Public Library. He is a professor at the University of Houston, and lives in New York City.

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the publisher)

Mark Doty's Fire to Fire collects the best of Mark Doty's seven books of poetry, along with a generous selection of new work. Doty's subjects—our mortal situation, the evanescent beauty of the world, desire's transformative power, and art's ability to give shape to human lives—echo and develop across twenty years of poems. His signature style encompasses both the plainspoken and the artfully wrought; here one of contemporary American poetry's most lauded, recognizable voices speaks to the crises and possibilities of our times.


Mark Doty's Website

Mark Doty's Blog


Listen to Mark read from Fire to Fire on the Leonard Lopate Show


from Fire to Fire by Mark Doty

His music, Charles writes,
makes us avoidable.
I write: emissary of evening.

We’re writing poems about last night’s bat.
Charles has stripped the scene to lyric,
while I’m filling in the tale: how,

when we emerged from the inn,
an unassuming place in the countryside
near Hoarwithy, not far from the Wye,

two twilight mares in a thorn-hedged field
across the road—clotted cream
and raw gray wool, vaguely above it all—

came a little closer. Though
when we approached they ignored us
and went on softly tearing up audible mouthfuls,

so we turned in the other direction,
toward Lough Pool, a mudhole scattered with sticks
beneath an ancient conifer’s vast trunk.

Then Charles saw the quick ambassador
fret the spaces between boughs
with an inky signature too fast to trace.

We turned our faces upward,
trying to read the deepening blue
between black limbs. And he said again,

There he is! Though it seemed only
one of us could see the fluttering pipistrelle
at a time—you’d turn your head to where

he’d been, no luck, he’d already joined
a larger dark. There he is! Paul said it,
then Pippa. Then I caught the fleeting contraption

speeding into a bank of leaves,
and heard the high, two-syllabled piping.
But when I said what I’d heard,

no one else had noticed it, and Charles said,
Only some people can hear their frequencies.
Fifty years old and I didn’t know

I could hear the tender cry of a bat
cry won’t do: a diminutive chime
somewhere between merriment and weeping,

who could ever say? I with no music
to my name save what I can coax
into a line, no sense of pitch,

heard the night’s own one-sided conversation.
What to make of the gift? An oddity,
like being double-jointed, or token

of some kinship to the little Victorian handbag
dashing between the dim bulks of trees?
Of course the next day we begin our poems.

Charles considers the pipistrelle’s music navigational,
a modest, rational understanding of what
I have decided is my personal visitation.

Is it because I am an American that I think the bat came
especially to address me, who have the particular gift
of hearing him? If he sang to us, but only I

heard him, does that mean he sang to me?
Or does that mean I am a son of Whitman,
while Charles is an heir of Wordsworth,

albeit thankfully a more concise one?
Is this material necessary or helpful to my poem,
even though Charles admires my welter

of detail, my branching questions?
Couldn’t I compose a lean,
meditative evocation of what threaded

over our wondering heads,
or do I need to do what I am doing now,
and worry my little aerial friend

with a freight not precisely his?
Does the poem reside in experience
or in self-consciousness

about experience? Shh,
says the evening near the Wye.
Enough, say the hungry horses.

Listen to my poem, says Charles.
A word in your ear, says the night.