NPR

A Story Of Hero Worship And Connection Runs Through 'What Is The Grass?'

Acclaimed poet Mark Doty's memoir is not only an exaltation of America's troubadour, Walt Whitman, but also a celebration of gay manhood, queerness, and the power and elasticity of poetry.
What Is the Grass: Walt Whitman in My Life, Mark Doty Source: W. W. Norton & Company

One long ago St. Patrick's Day, I wandered into an Irish book festival and picked up Colm Tóibín's essay collection, Love in a Dark Time: Gay Lives from Wilde to Almodóvar. The book made a deep impression about the dangers of gayness, loneliness that stems from the queer community's inability to hear or read its own stories, and literary codes that developed to signal queerness between the lines.

Tóibín named Walt Whitman (1819-1892) as a notable exception; Whitman defied codes and wrote "explicitly gay love poems."

Now comes acclaimed poet and memoirist Mark. Doty's memoir is not only an exaltation of America's troubadour, but also a celebration of gay manhood, queerness, and the power and elasticity of poetry. Doty features near the end of Colm Tóibín's book as a contemporary writer who's been permitted to explicitly mourn his lover, Wally, lost to AIDS. In his poem "Atlantis," Doty reflects:

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