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Critical Commentary on My Alexandria

Deborah Landau

The poems of My Alexandria transform homophobic narratives about the disease, offer comfort to those living with HIV, and encourage empathy from those whose lives have not yet been affected by the virus.... Although Doty’s poems are not polemical, they counter reductive representations of people with AIDS, are accessible to a wider audience, and have the potential to improve public response to the epidemic.... His poems expose the codes that map meaning onto the HIV-positive body, destabilize the complex cultural networks that construct gay male identity in the context of the AIDS epidemic, and forge a transformed and transforming language in which to articulate love and loss.... For Doty, poetry is a medium for imagining temporary exemption from history, from the physical and cultural constraints that circumscribe sensation and experience. By revealing the myths and politics that construct the AIDS epidemic and by depicting individual acts that defy the pressure of those constructions, My Alexandria transforms the terms that limit the lives and deaths of people with AIDS.

From Deborah Landau, "‘How to Live. What to Do.’: The Poetics and Politics of AIDS," American Literature vol. 68, no.1 (1996), pp. 193-225.

 Tony Whedon

With his rhapsodic inclusiveness, Doty performs a kind of meditation through which the wounds of memory are healed. In many of his poems, the meditation blooms from the spirit of his narrative, appearing often in what seems like an extended addenda—or cadenza—to the poem. The tone of these meditations is thoughtful, almost essay-like, enfolding the poem in a membrane of sensuous exposition. In a lesser poet, this exposition might intrude on the poem, might seem like an apology for what the more dramatic parts of the poem fail to offer. But Doty employs these to distance the principal event of the poem, to invest the event with a mysterious sensuousness afforded him through the shimmer of memory.

From Tony Whedon, "Let Me Go, If I Have to, In Brilliance," Poetry East, no.35 (1993), pp. 160-61.

 Diann Blakely Shoaf 

Like Cavafy, whose native city the title of this new collection alludes to, Mark Doty is a poet of desire and loss, of the monuments and ruins belonging to ancient and modern, "high" and "popular" cultures alike. The ancient world as underlying our own, and the multilayered mysteries revealed through excavation, imagined or actual, are subjects that have served Doty before.

From Diann Blakely Shoaf, review of My Alexandria, Harvard Review (Spring 1993).

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