Mark Doty reading at the Zen Center, July 21st

by Susannah Israel

“The Zen of Creativity.”

Tonight’s reading by Mark Doty is part of a celebration of the Zen Center’s 50th year in San Francisco.  The poet, who told us that he had just gotten off the plane, read from his new works with characteristic enthusiasm, humor and energy.  Soon to be published, What Is The Grass is a book of poems dealing with the eponymous work of Walt Whitman.  Doty explained that he came to feel a connection with Whitman and his work over time, and even with some surprise.  His poems are close observations, almost reports, on the way the use of language conveys intention and emotion.

Mark Doty has been an important influence for me for the past twelve years; I have read, and reread, all of his eight books of poems,  three memoirs and two books of criticism.  He has been elegist for the generation who lost so many of our best and most talented in the devastating early days of the HIV epidemic. Yet his work is mostly composed of insight, delight and celebration, a keen accounting, in clear and human terms, of what sustains and inspires us.

Tonight the discussion turned, perhaps not surprisingly for the setting, to the question of spiritual practice as an inherent part of working creatively.   I left reflecting on how familiar that conversation sounded in the context of the ceramics community.  Visual art conveys intention and emotion in ways that connect maker and audience across time and around the world.  I’m really starting to look forward to our own celebration this coming September.

Susannah Israel

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