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What is the Grass Reviews

What is the Grass by Mark Doty (Rutgers University)

What Is the Grass

Walt Whitman in My Life

Mark Doty (Rutgers University)

Score pending

2 reviews

Imprint: WW Norton & Co
Publisher: WW Norton & Co
Publication date: 14 Apr 2020
ISBN: 9780393070224

Named a Most Anticipated Book of 2020 by Buzzfeed, Library Journal, The Millions, and The Rumpus Effortlessly blending biography, criticism, and memoir, National Book Award-winning poet and best-selling memoirist Mark Doty explores his personal quest for Walt Whitman.

5 stars out of 5
9 May 2020

"an exceptional, passionate memoir of reading, and of a poet’s lifelong work of understanding self and the world"

In place of the slightly persecutory work of biographical detection, then, Doty substitutes the pleasures of reading. And this multifaceted book is among many things a memoir of reading itself: of returning to a body of work that has been of enormous importance to the author and showing not only how astonishing it is, but how much it has shaped his own life. Passages of close reading fill What is the Grass, as they search for the sources of Whitman’s extraordinary invention. Doty identifies five: revelatory experience, gay love, the rise of the American city, the natural world and the demotic freshness of American English. 


4 stars out of 5

"As admirers of his poetry and memoirs will know, Doty writes about his life with a rare warmth and candour"

Doty is particularly good on the way queer writers through the ages have seen themselves in Leaves of Grass, and his line-by-line readings show a fine poet’s ear. He brings in insightful biographical titbits (did Whitman’s visits to a failing Egyptology museum inspire his idea of grass as a “hieroglyphic”?) and surprising comparisons (with, say, Bijou, the 1972 art house porn film). He reads with care, in the sense of both attentiveness and love.