cover image Firebird: A Memoir

Firebird: A Memoir

Mark Doty / Author HarperCollins $25 (224p) ISBN 978-0-06-0193

Doty, an award-winning poet (Atlantis) and memoirist (Heaven's Coast) has penned an autobiography of his early years that, while beautifully and sensitively written, is more moving intellectually than emotionally. Using his family history and personal recollections to create a snapshot of the artist as a young child and beyond, Doty portrays the rocky emotional and psychological domestic terrain of his youth and adolescence: his family moved frequently; his mother was severely alcoholic; he hid his crushes on other boys from his homophobic parents while his sister became embroiled in a bad marriage and was imprisoned for breaking into and burglarizing a pharmacy. Doty's personal material is sometimes wrenching--at the story's climax, his mother, drunk, holds him at gunpoint--but he is at his best when describing his relationship to the idea of beauty and how it influenced his growth as an artist. From watching monster movies and listening to classical music as a child to participating in drama class and singing along to pop songs such as Petula Clark's ""Downtown"" as he grew older, Doty details his evolution as a poet. Through it all, he casts his tragic relationship with his mother as a touchstone for his love of art, relating how he moved from his childhood recognition that ""my relationship with my mother is immense... and occupies so much space I can barely see around it"" to an adult understanding that she ""taught me the things that would save me, and then... she taught me I wasn't worth saving."" In the end, Doty's story illuminates his poetry, but it doesn't match its power. (Oct.)