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“[An] incisive, personal mediation.” —New York Times Book Review
Mark Doty has always felt haunted by Walt Whitman’s perennially new American voice, and by his equally radical claims about body and soul. In What Is the Grass, Doty effortlessly blends biography, criticism, and memoir to keep company with Whitman and his Leaves of Grass, tracing the resonances between his own experience and the legendary poet’s life and work.
About the Author
Mark Doty is the author of more than ten volumes of poetry and three memoirs. His many honors include the National Book Award and a Whiting Writers’ Award. He is a Distinguished Professor at Rutgers University and lives in New York City.
What Is the Grass doesn’t possess a single inelegant sentence or poorly expressed thought.… [A]n excellent opportunity to re-examine the work of one of America’s first major poets through the prose of one of its best living ones.
— Scott Bradfield - Washington Post
[Doty] animates Walt Whitman’s joyful proclamation that everything is connected. — The New Yorker
A celebration of gay manhood, queerness, and the power and elasticity of poetry. — Martha Anne Toll - NPR
What Is the Grass may be the definitive book on Whitman’s life, afterlife and poetry. But it’s the moments in Doty’s own life… that the book truly glistens.
— Jessica Ferri - Los Angeles Times
[Mark] Doty puts on a clinic in how to read closely but expansively.… This is shining proof that criticism can make you want to hold it close. — John Freeman - LitHub
[A] masterful example [of the hybrid memoir]—weaving a close reading of Whitman’s life and writings into Doty’s own ruminations on art, queerness, humanism, and the American experience. — Arianna Rebolini - Buzzfeed
[A] dazzling and discursive meditation on Walt Whitman’s poetry.… In this homage to a poet whose voice has become a ‘permanent presence’ in his head, [Doty] has written a masterpiece, one that is as rapturously fine as the book he so lovingly and intelligently elucidates. — Phil Gambone - Gay and Lesbian Review
Exuberant.… This is Doty at his best: In gorgeous, calibrated sentences, he evokes the flourishes and sprung rhythms that make Whitman so contemporary. — Hamilton Cain - San Francisco Chronicle
What Is the Grass is a deep dive into Walt Whitman’s life, work, worldview, and something that feels like his cosmic theology. As if that weren’t enough, we’re also invited into Mark Doty’s own candid self-seeking, in episodes of the author’s life rendered in generous complexity. This beautiful, ingenious book affirms my belief in language as a living thing, and in the universe as a place overflowing with purpose and meaning. I wish all of the great poets could be reintroduced to me in such fashion!
— Tracy K. Smith
Quick-witted, slyly erotic, and sometimes ecstatic, this book explores Mark Doty’s relationship with Walt Whitman, or with the idea of Walt Whitman. It is intimate in its reality and in all that it imagines, and it captures with splendid lyricism the author’s generous obsession with his forebear. Mark Doty has written a literate and lovely volume. — Andrew Solomon