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This interview is taken from PN Review 248, Volume 45 Number 6, July - August 2019.

In Conversation with Mark Doty
Finding Optimism in Elegy with Mark Doty
Mícheál McCann
A Conversation

Seamus Heaney Centre for Poetry, Belfast, 28 November 2018


JOHN CAGE’S 4'33'' (four minutes and thirty-three seconds of prescribed silence) invites foot taps, rasping coughs and sounds outside the auditorium to be heard differently; this extraneous, incidental noise can then become something like music. Transformation, looking up, and beauty are traits of Mark Doty’s work I always return to. Do we uncover ‘[a]rtifacts of wreck?’ he asks in ‘Tunnel Music’ (Atlantis, 1995) or ghostly music? Doty demonstrates what it is to take personal history and personal memory, and defiantly inscribe grand joy and soaring loss.

I performed a poetry reading alongside Doty in Belfast in November 2018. After this we talked at length before and after about the community we feel in queer writing, how formative he was to my understanding of this community, and cultural disconnects and synergies between American and Irish queer life. Doty remarked on a line within a poem of mine (‘The nearest Gay™ is 7 kilometres away’) as being a call for community, for closeness. So many of Doty’s poems have this similar yearning. His poem ‘A Letter from the Coast’ ends with the blisteringly simple ‘I wish you were here’, which aptly epitomises much of the concerns of this subsequent conversation between Doty and I.

This interview asks questions of AIDS writing, American literary canon, elegy, the possibilities of joy, of optimism in queer writing particularly, all of which his mind grapples with aplomb. Of particular note is the immanent sublimity ...


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