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Thursday, October 27, 2011

Mark Doty at the Whiting Fdn Awards

Poet Mark Doty spoke to the honorees at the official announcement of the Whiting Foundation Awards last evening. Although we don't get to take home $50,000 dollars like the 10 members of the Whiting class of 2011 do, we can all still benefit from what Doty had to say to them, and to all writers.

Here are some excerpts:

A Nobel laureate has said, in a statement of praise for these prizes, “ The Whiting Awards are a wonderful antidote to self-doubt.” My immediate response is, well, good luck with that. If you’re at all like me, you’ll feel effervescent this evening, and lifted up by this experience for the next few days. In less than a week from tonight...your uncertainties and doubts in your own capabilities, in the worth of your projects, in the value of what we do – well, I wish that the Trustees of the Whiting Foundation had the power to simply wave those things away by giving you a citation and a check.

Or maybe I don’t wish that, not really. If there were not moments when it seems no one is paying the least bit of attention to what you do, or days when it seems the world absolutely does not need another lyric poem, another novel of ideas, I suspect our work would be far the less for it. Rejection must be at least as much a part of of our education as affirmation is...

And therefore artists, even ones who receive recognition, are subject to a particularly corrosive sort of bitterness. This is a mysterious thing, but I suspect it’s because the stakes involved here are primarily those of honor, of beautiful intangibles....The wanting is so large that it’s hard to figure out where satisfaction resides; what will it require, for us to believe we’ve done something worthwhile?

...But we artists -- and I will go even further out on this limb and suggest that particularly we writers – know what it is to want....Writers want to fit the world into words; we want to fit the world into our mouths. We seem to have an impossible longing for contact, impossible not only because of the boundaries of our separate skins but because of the fundamental inadequacy of the material we use for making connections: the ephemeral, airy, malleable stuff of language.

...Joy Williams has said it best.“Why does the writer write?” she asks. “The writer writes to serve -- hopelessly he writes in the hope that he might serve -- not himself and not others, but that great cold elemental grace that knows us.”

Doty (nearly) ends his speech with, "...may these awards be sustenance for you, and help you to negotiate with your doubt, and make good use of it."

And that's what we need to do, all of us writers: negotiate our doubt and make good use of it.

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