Poet Mark Doty Reads ‘A Display of Mackerel’

bjbjLULU GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight, one
of the great traditions of the holiday season told through the words of poet Mark Doty.
Doty is author of more than a dozen books of poetry, essays, and memoirs. His most recent
volume, “Fire to Fire: New and Selected Poems,” won the National Book Award. MARK DOTY, author:
One winter, the Choral Society in the little coastal town in Massachusetts where I lived
decided to mount a production of Handel’s “Messiah”. And this was ambitious and exciting,
but also, you know, a little daunting. And we weren’t really sure how well this was going
to work out. But the afternoon that I went to the performance, a beautiful sunset was
just beginning to form over the church steeple. And I looked at that and I thought, that is
a sure thing. If I go into the sanctuary, well, we will see. This is called “Messiah”:
Christmas Portions.” “Over the roof, two clouds propose a Zion of their own, blazing colors
of tarnish on copper against the steely close of a coastal afternoon, December, while under
the steeple, the Choral Society prepares to perform “Messiah. “Pouring on to the raked
stage, not steep really, but for from here, the first pew, they are a looming cloud bank
of familiar angels, that neighbor who fights operatically with her girlfriend, for one,
and the friendly bearded clerk from the post office, tenor trapped in the body of a baritone,
altos from the A&P, soprano from the T-shirt shop. “Today, they’re all poised, costume
and purpose conveying the right note of distance and formality. Silence in the hall, anticipatory,
as this we’re all about to open a gift we’re not sure we will like.” Here were people that
I saw every week at the post office or the grocery store going about their daily tasks.
And, suddenly, there they were in a different space in a new role, and they opened their
mouth and out poured this glory. And that’s a thrilling thing, when you realize that right
there in your community, just under the surface, waiting to break out is the gorgeous fire
of this music. “How could they compete with sunset’s burnished oratorio? Thoughts which
vanish when the violins begin. Who’d have thought they’d be so good? Every valley, proclaims
the solo tenor, a sleek blonde I’ve seen somewhere before — the liquor store? — shall be exalted,
and in his handsome mouth the word is lifted and opened into more syllables than we could
count, central ah dilated in a baroque melisma, liquefied. “This music demonstrates what it
claims: Glory shall be revealed. If art’s acceptable evidence, mustn’t what lies behind
the world be at least as beautiful as the human voice? The tenors lack confidence, and
the soloists, half of them anyway, don’t have the strength to found the mighty kingdoms
these passages propose. But the chorus, all together, equals my burning clouds, and seems
itself to burn, commingled powers deeded to a larger, centering claim.” There’s something
about that experience collectively that makes it more powerful. We understand that we’re
not just by ourselves experiencing this sense of being uplifted, but that we do that communally
and that our fellow voices do it for us. We are citizens together in that, that moment
of a kind of rapture. “Aren’t we enlarged by the scale of what we’re able to desire?
Everything, the choir insists, might flame. Inside these wrappings burns another, brighter
life, quickened now by song. Hear how it cascades in overlapping, lapidary waves of praise?
Still time, still time to change.” (MUSIC) (CHEERING AND APPLAUSE) urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
City urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags State urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:smarttags
place GWEN IFILL: Finally tonight: one of the great traditions of the holiday season
told through the words of poet Mark Doty Normal Microsoft Office Word GWEN IFILL: Finally
tonight: one of the great traditions of the holiday season told through the words of poet
Mark Doty Title Microsoft Office Word Document MSWordDoc Word.Document.8

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