MPR’s Katherine Lanpher talks with highly acclaimed gay poet and memoirist Mark Doty. The two discuss his second memoir “Firebird.” Doty reads from book.
Doty is also author of five collections of poetry. His first memoir “Heaven's Coast” won the PEN/Martha Albrand Award for First Non-fiction. He teaches at the University of Houston.
(00:00:00) With news from Minnesota Public Radio. Good morning. I'm Steven John. The Minnesota Department of Transportation says Rush Hour drivers can expect continued uncertainty in the ramp meters shut off. MnDOT says one preliminary finding of the study is that drivers are leaving home and work earlier extending the Rush Hour the evening Rush which typically starts at three pm has been starting at around 2:30 drivers in observers reported more delays on day two of the shutdown, but there were fewer accidents than usual. There were about 30 crashes yesterday, which normally when Only there about between forty and fifty three major candidates for the US Senate face off in a televised debate tonight Republican incumbent Rod grams Democratic Challenger Mark, Dayton and James Gibson of the independence party will take part in the hour long debate, which will also be broadcast live on Minnesota Public Radio Reform Party presidential candidate Pat Buchanan is in the Twin Cities today to hold what he calls a town hall meeting at the University of Minnesota. Buchanan says, he's disappointed the national media has effectively imposed a blackout on his campaign. He says if he had been Allowed to debate Al Gore and George W bush. His campaign would have caught on I think the American people should hear more ideas expressed in here more candidates and get a much broader range of choices for the future of their country. You can't it says the US should be more critical of Israel, which he says has to take its share of the blame for the recent upsurge in violence in the Middle East video update May close up to a fifth of its stores as part of a bankruptcy reorganization company chief executive. Dan Potter says only two or three of the stores effect there in the In Cities area and none are in outstate Minnesota partly to mostly sunny and Mild day across the state today highs around 60 in the Northeast to the low 70s in the extreme South for the Twin Cities right around 68 this afternoon. It's 48 now in Minneapolis. St. Paul Bemidji has 36 fog and 39 in sync cloud and 43 in Mankato. That's a news update. I'm Steven John today's programming is supported by three M which generously matches more than 900 employee contributions to MPR. Good morning. Welcome to mid-morning. I'm Katherine Lanford poet Mark Doty has called his latest Memoir a sissy boys story. It's the story of a childhood spent moving from town to town observing the drift and isolation of his family and grappling with his sexuality. He's taught is wrong. It's also a glorious story about survival art saved his life dhoti rights and how he comes to find what's beautiful and what's life-affirming not only saved the boy. Help to make the poet. He's the author of five poetry collections his Awards include the national book critics Circle award and the TS Eliot prize his previous Memoir Heavens Coast was about his grief at the death of his longtime partner from AIDS. We'll talk to him today about his most current book The Memoir titled Firebird. He joins us in the studio. Thanks for coming
(00:03:03) by my pleasure Catherine.
(00:03:04) Now, you've already written one Memoir. What inspired this
(00:03:07) one I missed the first one when I was Is finished as a poet, you know, I'm used to starting and stopping writing smaller units and I discovered in writing Heavens Coast that I love dwelling in a more extended narrative every morning. I could come back to my desk pick up where I left off and continue and Poets never have that luxury
(00:03:28) What story did you want to tell this point? I
(00:03:31) wanted to return to stories about my childhood stories. I tried to render inverse many years ago never successfully. I To think about what it was that made art the world of what people made such a refuge for me as a child. I was an Army brat. We moved all the time. I was overweight. I wore glasses. I love to read I had a Southern accent in places where often no one else did and so I was at almost guaranteed to be on the margins of any group in which I found myself but I learned very early on that the world of books the world of music of the Visual Arts was always open to me when I had no human Community. I could find a community in the world of
(00:04:19) art now so many people have focused on this book as a portrait of a young gay man, but you've said it's about an aesthetic education. Why don't you extrapolate on that? Is that what you're talking about right
(00:04:30) here? That's exactly what I'm talking about. I think that kids who experience themselves as different as Exiles in some way are always looking for a way to belong Way to connect to something outside ourselves which represents the richness the beauty that we feel inside like so many children, I could feel the power and Allure of of my inner life, but I don't think anybody could look at me and see that because I was the stranger I was the boy who wasn't good at sports. I was the kid who didn't know how to
(00:05:04) belong now, of course doesn't every teenager feel like
(00:05:09) that. I think every child It feels like that and that's one of the reasons that I wanted to write this book. I think that all of us experience ourselves as Outsiders at some time or another we're on the margin in some way and I was curious about what what is it that helps us to feel affirmed to feel whole in ourselves. Even though we know we're on that edge. How do we connect when we don't
(00:05:33) connect you have said childhoods work is to see What Lies Beneath wolf and here I thought it was learning how to spell and Okay. Take your toys. What do you mean by
(00:05:43) that? I mean learning to read the environment around you trying to figure out who are these people who brought me into the world? Why do they live as they do? What is it that they expect from me? What is it that they want for themselves? It seems to me that so much goes unspoken in childhood and children are always trying to read the signals figure things out know who they're supposed to be in the world what their possibilities
(00:06:08) are talk about the title. Why is he? Is book called
(00:06:11) Firebird? I had a wonderful fourth grade teacher woman who changed my life or name was Miss Virginia tie-ins and she was my teacher in Tucson, Arizona and that 1961 or so and this times cared more about her students creativity than anything else. She communicated to us that what we might draw from our own imaginations from our own interior lives was simply the most important thing to her when our class was taking a field trip to the symphony. Our concert she played records for us of all the music that we would hear one of those pieces of music was the sweet from Stravinsky's firebird and she would ask us to push all the desks in our classroom Back Against The Wall, we would stand in the middle of the room with her eyes closed and she would crank up the volume on the phonograph and she'd say now children move and I loved this. I felt I felt for the first time that I could absolutely lose my little lie. Life by immersing myself in something larger in the life of that music. I could join my limited self to a community that was extended in time and in space I could be part I could put myself in Stravinsky's hands as it were and that was both a way of losing myself and paradoxically of finding myself at
(00:07:31) once. Could you read a small section from the book Firebird?
(00:07:35) Sure. This is a description of that moment when my class Again to dance another day. It is time to experience the music in another way with all of our bodies all the desks in the classroom are pushed to the perimeter creating an open space in the center in which we all stand. Miss times tells us the story of the firebird how that Phoenix immolates itself and dances in the flames and then Rises up again radiant and new in the veils of its own ashes. We are to close our eyes and then the music will begin when we are ready. When we feel the music within us then we may begin to move. We wait in are self-made dark crackle at the beginning of the record then silence and then the Firebirds opening strains something approaching like whether we're still at first, but then a few kids begin to sway and then to rock and soon we are stepping and turning turning everyone. Way in a freedom of motion which in truth. I myself have instigated because I am suddenly deeply at home in the music which seems to inhabit me and as the piece mounts an intensity, so does my movement the fluidity of my arms and their Ripples and arching 's the Bowing of my legs the bending of my spine at first. I must be careful not to bump into them. But soon they become invisible to me the other children. There isn't any classroom around me anymore. More the music is effortless Grace and subsumed by it. I also am effortless something written quickly in the air. I'm utterly transported and free. Haven't I always been fire and never known it. Miss times is I think flabbergasted or at least I imagine so now who is this boy who pirouettes in his husky boy jeans as if he hadn't a shred of Shame at the time it seemed to me so matter-of-fact who wouldn't give themselves over to such an outpouring who wouldn't let that music come welling up as if it came not out of our portable phonograph, but from the depths of the body that is what has fallen away like The Firebirds scorched Vale my shame. How could I even know I carried it until I laid it down.
(00:10:07) Thank you. You have written that you were educated between two poles. What were they?
(00:10:15) Well that Firebird dance is one of them that was an early experience, which said to me. Look who you could be. Look how Limitless the possibilities of being alive are look at they they unknown riches which lie within you the other pole was a far less encouraging one. I came from a small and troubled family a family marred by alcoholism it during my teenage years. My parents had a particularly difficult time with accepting who their children turned. Want to be my sister's Behavior was troubling to them their perception of my incipient homosexuality was troubling to them and when I was 16, there was a kind of act of violence in my family my mother in a drunken State pulled a gun on me one day and that seems to me the opposing pole of the firebird
(00:11:13) dance. She why did she pull a gun on you?
(00:11:16) Well, she had found a book. She had found her, you know I had discovered. A book about sex book that I had read and tried to hide away and when my mother discovered that in my room, I think it confirmed her worst fears. Her son was a gay boy and something in her at that point was terrified of that could not accept it her response was that perhaps that child shouldn't live so you can see how the message this child doesn't deserve to live stands in absolute opposition to the prom. It's that that early experience of art held out.
(00:11:54) I also see how you are still her child somehow because when you were talking up to this Revelation in our conversation, you said kind of an act of violence Mark Doty pulling a
(00:12:06) gun on a little bit insane kind of because I so much wanted to write a book which is not not another Narrative of a dysfunctional family. I think we've all heard stories about how kids are marked that that narrative for very good reasons has been part of American culture over the last 15 or 20 years. We've been trying to take apart our monolithic sense of what a family is trying to understand it differently. I think that's a very good thing, but the culture didn't need me to write another of those books. I wanted to talk instead about How creativity becomes a refuge of course if I'm going to talk about why I need a refuge from talk about needing a refugee have to talk about why I need that Refuge.
(00:13:00) Yeah, this book strikes me when you're talking about needing a refuge. That's so Universal and yet it's also this book is often portrayed as you know, the story of a young gay man. How do you deal with the tension of you know affirming gay identity and yet wanting the book to be taken in all of its
(00:13:18) fullness. Well, this is a kind. Dove of paradox that is its Central to any any literature really the more personal we are the closer we are to the nature of individual experience. The more readers will be able to connect across the lines of difference. So I discovered this profoundly in publishing Heavens coast of a book about grief. I wrote about my partner of a Dozen Years dying of AIDS, but people came to that book and saw their It's mirrored whether it was the loss of a partner or The Disappearance of a parent into the fog of Alzheimer's or the end of a relationship one man, even wrote me a letter describing how he had lost his homeland his country no longer existed. He could not return home and he saw his grief for that place of origin mirrored in my book. I could never have imagined that and that's the gift of what literature can do. Ooh, we hope be personal enough that it allows the reader to connect. Well, I want in Firebird to speak to other gay boys to two lesbian girls to people who experience themselves as you know exemplars of sexual difference, but I also want to speak to everybody who ever felt on the edge in some way everybody who wasn't who they were supposed to be and isn't that all of
(00:14:46) us? We're talking to poet Mark Doty about his Just a memoir. It's called Firebird. We'd like to have you join this conversation. It's one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight Mark doty's other Memoir is called Heavens Coast. He teaches at the University of fiction. Excuse me, the University of Houston paging. Dr. Freud. I wonder where that came from. Yeah, you like that. It's one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight in the Twin Cities at six five. One two, two seven six thousand six five. One two, two seven six thousand, you know, I thought there was you make a point in your Memoir that I hadn't thought about for a long time. But it was true you write about a time when a haircut could be a very rebellious act. Could you talk about your sisters haircut and your haircut and the time difference? They showed
(00:15:40) sure haircuts become of occasions of great drama in this story in about 1959 when I was a first grader my Got the haircut known as a DA you had enough we can say what that stands for stands for duck's ass more politely known as ducktail. That was a gesture against femininity against Conformity against being a good girl. It was the point when my sister said, well, the rainbow girls aren't really going to be the path of my future and suddenly she had a boyfriend with a motorcycle and a black leather. Jacket instead I 10 years younger was very impressed by these events. My parents were impressed to but in an extremely negative way that wasn't who they wanted their daughter to be they saw a future of trouble and dissipation ahead. I couldn't have known that that also predicted my own future with hair in about 1967 or 68. I started to find a new identity as a teenager through not cutting my hair. I had that kid who had felt like, you know a sissy brain For Eyes suddenly found that he could be sort of cool and then he could become downright hip by. Wearing a Paisley dashiki wire-rimmed glasses and not cutting his hair anymore. My parents found that hard to accept and when in fact they insisted on a regulation crew cut my response to it was a very grave one. I was I guess 15 at the time 14:15 and I tried to kill myself not very effectively, but with a bottle of Sominex and it was many years, of course by before I understood that it wasn't The haircut that made me want to die. It was that I had found some little way to feel okay to feel like an acceptable person in part of the social world of my high school and to lose that meant there. I was the kid who could never
(00:17:53) belong Could you talk about the difference between perspective and forgiveness?
(00:18:01) Absolutely, one of the things that the Memoir requires of us is attempting to stand back from the stuff of a life in order to see it the memoirist must treat everybody in his or her life as a character. Even the people who you feel angry at the people who wronged you and you know a novelist cannot. I hate his characters. We have to try to understand those people three-dimensionally to have some connection empathically. Otherwise, the reader won't believe in them. I found it very helpful to treat my family as my characters so that I had to try to see why they met behaved as they did. You know, what what kinds of forces were shaping them. So to my mind that that is perspective forgiveness is another matter and there's something there's something a little it'll arrogant finally about the notion of forgiveness. I want who am I to say now? It's up to me to forgive my mother or to forgive my father for their behavior. It seems more important that I tried to find a position of relation to it a position of understanding and I think that that's that's the gift of perspective.
(00:19:17) Can you own forgiveness? Can you there are those who would argue that you would need? Forgive for instance your mother now deceased for trying for wanting to shoot you so that you can go on. What do you do with that
(00:19:34) argument? I'm uneasy with the notion because I think that it's important that we honor our anger. I think that's important that we pay attention to the ways in which we have been violated and that the dark parts of my childhood are very much made me who I am as well as the bright parts. As well as dancing to that Stravinsky if I can't hold both within me than I think I'm a partial person. So I'm a little uncomfortable with the notion that I say, it's alright. I accept the past.
(00:20:07) We're going to go to Medora and st. Paul Medora. Welcome to mid-morning. Hi, I guess I guess I have a question and also comment. I wanted to comment and to say how reiterate how vital it. Is that schools continue to have our programs and music program. Because I know oftentimes the downfall of teachers especially in our own state that we are losing those programs in our schools. And I also I guess my question want I wanted to ask how do you then our world today have tell people to older I guess maybe of the older generation parents how to deal with and how to begin coping with and accepting gay children.
(00:20:48) Wonderful question. Well, first of all I couldn't agree with you more about the necessity for Arts. Graham's the opportunity to educate the spirit is is too good a want to pass up and in fact children who have Rich experiences in the visual arts in music and sculpture in all the ways in which people Express themselves are also better equipped to work in more academic Fields as well. We know that through creativity many many cognitive skills are also strengthened as far as parents accept their children. Well one thing that we can do Is is look to our expectations about gender. It seems to me that that much of what created a struggle for me as a young gay boy was the difficulty of being a boy in the right way not knowing the rules not being able to figure out the rules and one of the things that's happened. Wonderfully since the early 60s when I was struggling to figure out you know how to play kickball is that I think our culture has has loosened up marvelously we have That gender identity is a Continuum that there are all kinds of appropriate ways to be a little girl or to be a little boy and I think that we can treasure difference we can look for ways to allow children to be at home in their own preferences and desires.
(00:22:13) Do you ever think if I had been born even 10 years later
(00:22:19) do I ever I see my own students often, you know? Poets or young graduate students who are so much more self-aware than I could have been at their age and they of course I can't help but think how much time I wasted in not being able to know myself not having that kind of access to my feelings that those kids have had. I'm very grateful to be able to be visible as a gay teacher as a gay writer in those students lives. It would have made a huge difference. It's for me to have people around like that.
(00:22:59) You said in an interview once that you tried to write this Memoir in your that you couldn't write have written this memory when you were 25 mentioned that you try to do these stories inverse. What do you think stopped you from trying from telling these stories before well
(00:23:19) part of its that matter of perspective when I began Firebird, I I was in my 40s early 40s and I was just about the age that my father was when I was a little boy and you know as we move through experience, hopefully we develop in some ways and I think one of those developments is to be able to empathize with older people in a way that you know, when we're young ourselves is very difficult to do my parents seem to me like gigantic Shadows projected on the bedroom wall inscrutable who could understand these people and why they did what they did. As I myself come closer to their age, I think it gets a little easier to empathize and to connect with with your fears and their doubts. That's one of the things that I mean by perspective. I also think that this story is not just about me and the little boy that I was this has to do with forces in American life with my parents moving from Little connected towns in East Tennessee where they knew everybody into the great Suburban. Towards the Aspera with a move many many times into communities where they knew no one and they were trying to figure out how do we make a life here? Who are we now who should our children be and how can we help them be those people that we imagine that's obviously not just my story but a generational story. So Memoir to my mind is a is a kind of personal form of History. It's a way that we meet the subjective side of
(00:24:51) History. We're talking to poet Mark Doty about his new Moire Firebird, maybe your of that generation. He was just mentioning. Maybe you two had that childhood of disconnection and travel. We're also talking about what it was like in the 60s to grow up young and gay or lesbian what the culture was like, how is that culture shifted? We'd like to have you join this conversation. It's one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight one eight hundred two four two two eight two eight now this book is not Only a story of a young boy. It's also a story of survival Mark Doty has said that art saved his life. What do we mean by that? We would like to hear your version? It's six five. One two, two seven six thousand six five. One two, two seven six thousand. I'm Catherine land for your listening to mid-morning. We're going to turn now to Stephen John. He's standing by with the latest from the Minnesota Public Radio Newsroom. Thank you Katherine instant polls from last night's third and final presidential debate suggest Watchers were we're nearly evenly split on which candidate out did the other a CBS News poll gives Al Gore a 45 percent approval rating to George W. Bush's 40% other polls show them even there's word in Israel that the country's security forces have arrested eight Palestinian suspected of involvement in last week's killing of two Israeli soldiers in the West Bank the report comes on Israel radio. It says the people arrested included a Palestinian man who was photographed at a window after the killing with blood on his hands President Clinton has been meeting with injured sailors. From the USS Cole this morning in Norfolk, Virginia. He's there to attend a memorial service for the 17 who died in an apparent terrorist attack on the US Destroyer last week in Yemen for the first time in seven months. The Dow is below the 10,000 Mark as investors respond to concerns about corporate earnings and inflation in the opening minutes of trading the blue-chip index fell more than 430 points before regaining some ground broader indicators are also down buses are rolling again on the streets of Los Angeles following the The end of a month old Transit strike subway service is expected to get back on track tomorrow the Minnesota prison system intends to cut 186 jobs through attrition as part of a plan to reduce per prisoner costs, which are among the highest in the nation. The Department of Corrections predicts. The prison population will increase between 200 and 300 inmates per year prosecutors say they will seek a four-year sentence today for the man who pleaded guilty to causing the accident that killed Timberwolves player Malik Sealy success, Angwin The same pleaded guilty last month to criminal vehicular homicide a partly to mostly sunny mild day across the region today highs should range from around 60 in the arrowhead to the low 70s in the extreme South for the Twin Cities upper 60s expected with light. Northwesterly winds. Bemidji has 48 this hour, it's 40 in Brainerd Rochester has 52 and it's 52 degrees in the Twin Cities. That's a news update. I'm Steven John Minnesota Public Radio is looking for volunteers to help us answer phones during our next membership drive. Do you have a few hours between November 9th in the seventeenth? Of course you do. So call us today and sign up will give you parking food and a good time. It's great chance to talk to listeners on the phone. You get to meet other members and also staff here at NPR to volunteer call one eight hundred to two hundred seven one two three right now and thanks today's programming is sponsored in part by Brian Brown and Kelly Davis Brown in celebration of their wedding anniversary. I'm Catherine land for your listening to mid morning. We're continuing our conversation with poet Mark Doty. He is the author of both firebird and Heavens Coast to both Memoirs were talking to him about his latest, which is Firebird. We'd like to have you join this conversation one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight in the Twin Cities. It's six five. One two, two seven six thousand six five. One two, two seven six thousand before we go to those calls mark Sodium wanted to talk there are some listeners who I think even if they haven't read your poetry they've heard about you because of a fracas at the University of st. Thomas a year or so ago your Memoir about your partner's death Heavens Coast was selected as the common book at the University of st. Thomas and there was some which meant that every the entire class as I recalled the entire Freshman Class had to read it and there was some consternation over that talk for a minute about What happened with that
(00:29:25) discussion? Sure. I actually thought that those teachers were remarkably Brave to use the book which is about my grief at the illness and death of my partner as a common text for 1100 freshman in a Catholic University in the midwest. I was surprised by that and I guess it's not surprising that they received some flak from conservative members of the faculty and people in the community potential donors. Has and trustees who wanted to know well, you know, why is this book that we could describe as a love story between two gay men being taught in in our school? I went to Saint Thomas to read from the book last year was that well, I walked into an auditorium with 1200 kids in it. All of whom had read my Memoir very peculiar experience because it was they knew me far far better than I knew any of them as I walk down the aisle. I felt I was wearing a big scaffolding of light. Which red homosexual over my head, you know, I'm not used to coming to schools as a visiting gay man. I've ever used him appearing as a visiting writer. So it was odd for me to have my difference for grounded in that way. However, I talked to the students about the difference between art and activism how activism asks us to change our mind and to take action therefore and how art instead asked us to have an experience an emotional and intellectual experience in response to someone else has made and that's what I was asking them to do to meet me as an artist, and they were remarkably willing to do so. I talked to them about the writing of Heavens Coast. I read to them from Firebird. We took questions and about two hours later. There was such a feeling of warmth and community in that Auditorium. It was truly remarkable and affirmative for me.
(00:31:16) We're going to go to Liz in La Crosse, Wisconsin Liz welcome to mid morning. Thank you for taking my call Catherine the pleasure. Speak with you mark. Good morning. I'm an admirer of your writing. Thank you. One of the things I wanted to ask you was. Do you remember the poem you read on the program with Bill Moyers about going to the
(00:31:37) church? Yes about the performance of Handel's Messiah
(00:31:41) that one right? Yes. I was wondering if you could please tell me which collection of yours that is in so I could have that at hand
(00:31:50) sure thing that is in sweet machine, which is my most recent book of poems. As and it was published by harpercollins in 1998. The poem is called Messiah Christmas portions,
(00:32:00) you know, I was going to ask you to read a poem for those people who haven't heard you or who haven't read your poems. Could you read us I have my favorite there in front of
(00:32:10) you sir. I will this is a poem which began in the Stop & Shop my favorite grocery store in Orleans Massachusetts near near the town where I live most of the time this is called a display of mackerel. They lie in parallel rows on Ice head to tail each of foot of Luminosity barred with black bands, which divided the scales radiant sections like seems of lead in a Tiffany window iridescent watery Prismatic 6 think abalone the wildly rainbowed mirror of a soap bubble sphere think sun on gasoline. Splendor and Splendor and not a one in any way distinguished from the other nothing about them of individuality instead. They're all exact expressions of the one Soul each a perfect fulfillment of Heavens template mackerel Essence as if after a lifetime arriving at this enameling the jeweler's made. countable examples each as intricate in its oily fabulous action as the one before Suppose we could Iridessa like these and lose ourselves entirely in the universe of Shimmer. Would you want to be yourself only unduplicated bubble doomed to be lost they'd prefer plainly to be flashing participants multitudinous even now they seem to be bolting forward heedless of stasis. They don't care they're dead. Nearly Frozen just as presumably they didn't care that they were living all all for all the rainbowed school. And it's Acres of brilliant classrooms in which no verb is singular or everyone is how happy they seem even AA nice to be together selfless, which is the price of gleaming. Thank you. My pleasure.
(00:34:35) We're going to go to Abigail and Minneapolis. Welcome to mid-morning. Hi. Mr. Doty. I wanted to take a step back and talk about Heavens Coast. I had heard a lot about it. And I thought it only appropriate that I buy my copy when I'm in Provincetown. So I went to recovering Hearts bookstore and got the last copy on the Shelf. I and you had mentioned that it spoke to a lot of people who are grieving in different ways. And the reason why I was recommended to me was Because of the friends that I have who has lot have lost father's to AIDS or have lost a or whether or not they lost their fathers were part of a community. So The Grieving was for many of us that grew up with gay parents. It was grieving about the loss of a community. That's so interesting. So this brought words to our experience when we were experiencing this as much younger people from that from that perspective as as
(00:35:29) children. How old are you if I may is I'm 28, so this is so intriguing to me. Because of course, I experienced the epidemic from a different perspective. And so to speak to your community those kids who I think whose experience might be less represented is thrilling to me and I'm grateful that you could find your experience reflected there.
(00:35:51) Yeah. I actually have not lost my father but really losing the sense of community that we had growing up and many of my friends who do who did lose their parents. So that's why I was And as I said, we lack the ability to find those words and so when you express that it kind of it brings it validates our experience of The Grieving and then I wanted to ask you a question Rebecca Wells who was in town recently named you among her favorite authors, and I wanted to know where you seek your inspiration.
(00:36:26) Oh goodness everywhere a primarily in in poetry I return again and again, Again to some perennial favorites a most of them who aren't living Emily Dickinson Walt Whitman Keith's the great German poet Rainer Maria rilke in Memoir. It's actually mostly my contemporaries whose work Thrills me Terry Tempest Williams Frank Conroy Mary Karr who I know is just in the Twin Cities Joanne beards Jill cement Bernard Cooper many many people who are I think writing wonderful and brave new work? Which they are seeking ways to represent the story of a life. Inventively.
(00:37:08) Let's go to Mike and Steve Paul. Welcome to mid-morning. Hello. Hi for taking my call. I am stepping back a little bit. I turned on the radio when you were describing the dance Ark yes, and I just found that really touching and and brought to mind for me one of my issues which is which has been actually being heterosexual and having an artistic
(00:37:39) nature. Yes, right people think that's a little odd, huh
(00:37:46) interesting that one of my roommates in college for instance was was gay and an artist and I've known a number of people who have been Artisan in one way or another and have been gay and And for some reason it almost seemed more straightforward for them to take an identity and and I don't know that I've ever found an identity as an artist being being a musician. It's almost more acceptable to say I'm homosexual and therefore I can be flamboyant and emotional and and whatever
(00:38:25) sure what you raised a really crucial point, which is that homophobia doesn't just wind up a pressing gay people. The notion that to be a man is to behave in certain ways to be a woman is to behave in certain ways limits us all it it as you point out restricts our
(00:38:44) possibilities. Let's go to David in St. Paul David. Welcome to mid-morning. Hello, Katherine. Hi. Hello, Mark. Good morning, Mark. I think it's exceptional that well while you're while you'r craft is is extraordinary really the message that you share is is so vital and so important I find. That your openness and you're sharing people of and you and I are in the same generation. Really I think is making the world a very different place. Thank you than it was for us 20 years ago at a national coming out Day lunch in a couple of years ago a speaker suggested that that we have. We have a moral obligation to be to be as out and to be as visible and as honest about Who we are as we possibly can be because we owe all of the people who preceded us who've made our lives easier and better we owe them that that respect in taking full advantage of the opportunities that they've they've made for us. And certainly that's something that that you're doing and doing very eloquently.
(00:40:03) Well, I appreciate that. I find the so often I am I visit schools at all levels. I'll walk into say High School auditorium and I can sense kids being you know, a little nervous who may know who is this guy? Is he going to be straightforward with us or not? And the more open that I am the more I'm willing to stand in the center of my life and say here I am like it or not, you know, you can deal with me the more people meet me. It's really quite remarkable and it calls upon one to weave with some degree of Courage, you know, it's not like coming out is something that you do once and you're done and Seems to be a fact a kind of daily
(00:40:43) activity. I think that's a very interesting point. I think most people think okay, you break it to the folks. And then we you're
(00:40:50) free. Exactly not quite, you know, what about you know, the taxi driver who asked you about the missus or you know, the salesman who you know is asking you about your Christmas shopping or that, you know, this is sort of goes on and on and on in all our daily life was because you know our expectations that the normal the normal eye. Rising narrative right that we all live with this is the way people are this is who you're supposed to be and we all find ourselves resisting
(00:41:18) that I want to go back to one of our previous callers because he was saying it was almost easier for his gay roommate to be artistic and was for him. Do you ever find that as we have more recognition of gay and lesbian Pride as we have the Parade's do you ever find that there's a sort of straight Envy?
(00:41:39) I find that. Of course. There's an Envy of the notion that it's kind of military now should actually that identity could be sort of simple. You could claim who you are once and for all and have it over with you won't have to struggle anymore. Well, the news is this is not the case and this is the problem with you know, with gay pride in the rainbow flag and and that whole sort of frankly kind of commercial a set of characteristics which argues that Here's what identity is and in fact, you know human beings are always a whole lot more complicated than that. None of us can be homogenized. So simply we're talking to poet Mark
(00:42:18) Doty about his latest Memoir. It's called Firebird. We have some up and phone lines. Go ahead and join this conversation we're talking about how art saved his life. How did Art save your life? How much better is it or how different is it for young gay and lesbian students gay and lesbian? Old for instance. How is life different for them than it was 20 years ago. What have you noted in your own life. We're also talking about the forms of literature here poetry versus Memoir. What has Memoir? How is it served you I'm are you one of those people who reads Memoir all the time or are you a lover of poetry is one of our previous callers noted a mark Doty was on the recent Bill Moyers special. Of course. We also like would like to point out on Mark Doty is the author of five poetry Collections and his Awards include the national book. Attic Circle award. It's one eight hundred two, four two two eight two eight in the Twin Cities. It's six five. One two, two seven six thousand six five. One two, two seven six thousand. Wanted to talk to you for a minute about after you wrote your first Memoir Heavens Coast you said in an interview that you were you went through a period where you felt like you had used up your memory your personal narrative for stories and had given it away. What's it like when you feel like you're giving away Yourself when you write these Memoirs.
(00:43:41) Well, you know in that case I had written a book which was written with very little distance It Was Written right after the fact of while his death and I wanted to write a book with no distance because I thought there was plenty to read about grief from a psychological point of view that said your feelings are normal or from a spiritual point of view, which said death isn't really the end of life, but I couldn't find things to read which were written from the terrible Heat. To have new gray for one doesn't want to be consoled. You know, what one wants to live in the terrifying flux. So I wrote a book that did that but that meant that I had put all of myself onto the page and suddenly when the book came out. I had this awful feeling that I couldn't remember anything about my life with wildly except what was in the book. I thought I've replaced my life with a book which just frightened me and then on the book tour about two weeks. Into it. I remembered something. I'd forgotten to include in the book and I was so grateful because it meant that my life was a larger than my book. And and this is so crucial in understanding about Memoir. We're always telling a story in one way for a particular purpose Firebird tells the story of my growing up in order to investigate this question about aesthetic education about finding a community in the world of art, but I could have told this story in other way. To and it would become a very different book. I think that our memories are always shifting. We're never quite finished with the past. We simply walk around the past and we look at it from a different point of
(00:45:22) view. How has your family reacted to this memoir?
(00:45:27) Wildly Divergent Lee my sister of was response. I was very nervous about because the book talks about her while teenage years and my sisters now a grandmother and I didn't know what she'd told her children and our grandchildren about her early life and I thought I don't want them to find out about their mother and grandmothers life from reading it in my book. So I gave the book to her before it was published. I waited with bated breath for the phone to ring and then she called and said That I want to tell you your book is so funny. And so tender she said it's like looking in a mirror of things that happened 40 years ago, but she said it's a kind mirror and a gentle one and you were nicer to people than I would have been which of course made me feel so much better. Then she gave the book to her kids to read. She said I want them to know about about my story and your story, but she said, you know, this really is your story and not mind. She said the things that you got Wrong just made this book that much more you and I think that's the best response a memoirist could hope for from from your family because of course, you're not telling their story. You can only tell your own story because that's all you can truly know. I'm not even sure you can know that it's just
(00:46:43) going to say what kind of research did you do?
(00:46:46) I did no research at all. I wanted to write a book, which was Allegiant to how empty memory to how the facts felt not to what Happened but to how that experience formed itself in the mind of that child and I didn't even do this consciously when the book was being copy edited copy editor raised a question. I had said that my sister was married in a beige dress and I speculated about why she was wearing a beige dress. Did she pick it and my parents make her wear that dress and the copy editor said well, why don't you just ask her and I realized it had never occurred to me to ask her because it wasn't that kind of. Book it was so interested instead in how that child tried to make sense of
(00:47:32) things. And your mother is deceased. How did your father
(00:47:36) respond to the well that that's the the other side of the coin my father. Simply meant the book with silence a silence which has continued now for over a year that's been painful to me and yet at the same time. I have the sense of having replaced a somewhat false Congeniality with an honest silence. I think that it is a generous gesture for children to allow their parents. To know them and to see them even though it may make our parents very uncomfortable and you know, one of the characteristics of gay and lesbian kids is that we often don't let our parents know us because we're afraid we're afraid of their judgment. So I think I withheld a great deal of myself from my father. And it must have been difficult for him to read read the manuscript.
(00:48:33) We're going to go to Betty in St. Peter. Welcome to mid-morning. Thank you. Good morning. And I was an activist in the American labor movement for quite a number of years and I just wanted to respond to the questions about how art saved Our Lives music and theater contribute and reading contribute fiction and fictionalized Truth. Really contributed to me keeping my personal sanity as our work became more and more focused on bread and butter issues that you know the terms of the terms and conditions of employment how many hours we work what we get paid and just the bread and butter issues. So having music and having people sing their passion really kept alive for me the nature of a movement in the work that we were doing. Thank you
(00:49:24) Betty. Absolutely. It's one of the ways that we feel the presence of our own spirits and we feel the spirit and other people
(00:49:31) let's go to Cliff in Rosemont. Welcome to mid morning. Hi. I'm really sort of concerned and troubled by the discussion instance that Medium is being provided for the speaker and you stay to yourself that you refer to 10 10 year old gays and lesbians and I really went hard to believe that generally speaking a person at that age has made that determination about their sexuality. I know I didn't have sexuality myself out 17 if you want. And it's still kind of Traditional Values. We won't let the Boy Scouts in the schools because they're for heterosexuality, but we'll let the guest speaker in the school's who's sponsoring homosexuality. I'll hang up but when I cliff hang on a minute because here's one thing I'm having problems following if 10 year olds don't have any sexuality or sexual orientation than why should we care who the leaders are. Well, I'm not saying they don't have such all about. I'm a determination. I think the person's pretty confused right through puberty. And from the confusion doesn't necessarily mean they're homosexual. I don't know that and I do have a problem with it is that if first of all one you want the Boy Scouts in schools because they support a traditional value but you let other people's in schools that are non-traditional that maybe you go against other people's Traditional Values. So it's really skewed and the other thing is if you're taking someone who is confused as to their sexuality and a purity level while you're allowing that kind of influence. All right, Clifford. Thank you for your call. And we'll let Mark Doty
(00:51:15) respond. Sure. Well, I think there's a real difference between desire and identity. Now. I knew very early on and I talked about this in Firebird that there was something about Men's bodies, which was powerful for me. I remember I talked about in the book being six years old and first grade and going for a ride on the back of my sisters boyfriends motorcycle and feeling a kind of excitement and dizziness that I certainly couldn't articulate and on one level that that's not sexual because you know that six year old boy was too young for anything to be exactly sexual but it was something deep within myself something deep. Related to desire now that's a different thing than a homosexual identity than calling yourself a gay person or a lesbian person and you're right. That's something that comes along much later and I would not be inclined to say to a ten-year-old while you're a gay child or you're a lesbian child or your a straight child because I think that that's irrelevant. I do think that we can give kids permission to have the whole range of feeling of who they are and not worry about judging their
(00:52:31) Tease, let's go to Craig and Minneapolis Craig. Welcome to mid-morning. Thank you. I grew up in Texas in the 1960s and in an environment where gender roles were very very clearly defined. Yes. If you didn't play football or team sports you lacked character you were a communist all sorts of things including suspect as a man or as a boy, I guess what saved my life partly was. I got involved in in the drama club in theater and part of that was a big part of that was it was a place to belong it was a team effort. So team sports were very I saw very oppressive but yet I needed to belong to something larger than myself and could belong that team effort. And ironically one of things I learned in that is that I was not going to become a professional theater person, but I've carried Had that experience into my activism work. I chose social work as a career and it certainly is part of my my work every day. I just recently returned from Texas where my nephew recently committed suicide which has been a very devastating experience for my family Craig. I have to scoot your long. I'm so sorry. Okay when you doing right now, yeah. Well, no just if you have a question quickly, his struggle was about sexuality. Whether or not he was going to be gay or not. He was 22 whether or not he was gay or not. But I wish I had known about your works because I think that they could have helped him and whatever his final outcome would have been other than what in fact he did choose.
(00:54:15) Alright so many gay and lesbian kids in the country still commit suicide and I think that is of course the result of isolation a sense of being alone in the world if art could make some difference in that isolation then that will Oh, I will have feel I have done quite
(00:54:33) enough Mark Doty. We've run out of time. I want to thank you for joining us
(00:54:37) today. It's been my pleasure Catherine. Thank you and thanks to all the callers
(00:54:41) Mark Doty will be reading at 7 p.m. Tonight at the Borders bookstore in Calhoun Square in Uptown Minneapolis. The book again is Firebird. I'm Catherine Lanford if you've missed any mid-morning shows for the last week, you know where to go Minnesota Public Radio dot-org make sure you click the link for mid-morning. You're listening to Minnesota Public Radio. On sound money this week.