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This review is taken from PN Review 125, Volume 25 Number 3, January - February 1999.

CREATING THINGS MARK DOTY, Sweet Machine (Cape) £8.00

What Mark Doty does best in his new collection is the same thing he does best in his previous books; simple descriptions, the ways he represents things perceived, are brief and direct, bringing the poems immediately to life. For example, in 'White Kimono' a shipment of old robes is 'thunderheads/ of pine mounting a stony slope/ tousled fields of embroidery'; 'costumes for some Japanese// midsummer's eve'; 'tiny gossamer sleeves/ like mothwings worrying a midnight lamp'. Descriptions of such style and quality typify Doty's work. Where for other writers this surface-buzz, these needle-pricks of sensation, might represent the limit of their talent, Doty's work is awash with language of this kind. Poems such as 'Thirty Delft Tiles', 'Murano', and 'Mercy on Broadway' begin with similar flurries, similar arrays of imagery. Their subjects are generally things man-made, works of craft or art (tiles, glassware, painting, tapestry), their surface qualities and how they are affected by light. But, as Doty states in 'Retrievers in Translation', 'The subject's always ostensible', and while the descriptions are so pervasive they might almost be taken for granted, the thing that gives Sweet Machine its strongest flavour is the way he attempts to move the evidence towards a conclusion. Such conclusions are often presented in the form of rhetorical questions: 'Do we love more/ what we can't say?' ('Fog Suite'); 'What's identity but a forged glamour?' ('Emerald'). Maybe this movement from image to inference is what always happens in poems - maybe, for example, the shifts in ...


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