Poetry Friday: Mark Doty’s “Pipistrelle”

h1 February 29th, 2008 by eisha

Pipistrelle batI mentioned a couple of weeks ago that I’d seen Mark Doty at a reading at Cornell. I had only very recently been introduced to Mark Doty’s poetry, by the same friend that invited me to the reading and snuck me into the secret reception afterwards. I can never thank her enough.

If it weren’t for her, I might never have encountered Doty’s spare, tightly-wound verse, and the elegance with which he portrays the natural world.

If it weren’t for her, I might not have had the profound pleasure of hearing said verse read by the author himself, who is blessed with the perfect voice for poetry: edgy, rich, intense, and with a welcome hint of self-mockery.

If it weren’t for her, I almost certainly wouldn’t have had the chance to talk to Mark Doty in person, and find out that he was born in Maryville, Tennessee: the very same tiny town where my husband grew up, where he and Jules and I attended college, and where for a fun post-college year or two Jules and I shared a tiny old four-room farm house with an excellent porch swing and a wicked ant problem.

So thanks, Dana. And now I pay it forward, and share him with the rest of you. Here’s a snippet of Mark Doty’s poem “Pipistrelle:”

Then Charles saw the quick ambassador
fret the spaces between boughs
with an inky signature too fast to trace.

We turned our faces upwards,
trying to read the deepening blue
between black limbs. And he said again,

There he is! Though it seemed only
one of us could see the fluttering pipistrelle
at a time—you’d turn your head to where

he’d been, no luck, he’d already joined
a larger dark. There he is! Paul said it,
then Pippa. Then I caught the fleeting contraption

speeding into a bank of leaves,
and heard the high, two-syllabled piping.
But when I said what I’d heard,

no one else had noticed it, and Charles said,
Only some people can hear their frequencies.
Fifty years old and I didn’t know

I could hear the tender cry of a bat
—cry won’t do: a diminutive chime
somewhere between merriment and weeping…

You can read the entire poem here, and you can listen to Mark Doty reading it here. And to read about the soprano Pipistrelle bat, and hear it’s echolocation call, go here.

another Pipistrelle bat

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11 comments to “Poetry Friday: Mark Doty’s “Pipistrelle””

  1. I love that poem! Thanks, Eisha. Mark Doty is one of my favorite poets. How cool you got to hear him read.


  2. That really was a fantastic reading. And I love that poem! Lyrae told me about a church in Pennsylvania that’s populated entirely by bats. You have to wait in the graveyard behind it at twilight and when the sun goes down: bam! Thousands of bats fly straight at you, right out of the church windows.

    I really, really want to go there.


  3. Eisha,

    Mark Doty has a lot of fans back here in New England. Mark was one of the poets we worked with during the first annual Summer Poetry Institute for Teachers at Boston University in 2001. (The institute was a collaboration between the Favorite Poem Project and the BU School of Education.) We teachers thought Doty was wonderful. We loved his poetry reading–but it didn’t last long enough. I’m so glad you had an opportunity to meet him.


  4. Susan and Elaine, glad to hear you’re fans, too. And how cool you got to work with him, Elaine!

    Dana, I dunno… are the bats that fly at you cute little Pipistrelle-type bats, or the big kind that might get caught in your hair and flap around?


  5. Even though you didn’t put yourself on the Poetry Friday list chez moi, I’ve rounded you up. What a great poem and reading (and post!)


  6. The title alone of this poem makes me happy…just to say it: Pipistrelle, pipistrelle, … The poem itself is so lovely, and that’s a lot for me to say, because a bat once pooped on me. While I was a slow-moving preggers lady, no less. But I do think they are fascinating in so many ways.


  7. Very cool. Thanks for introducing me to somebody new. Lucky you — hobnobbing with the Pipistrelle man.


  8. Thanks, Kelly! I meant to go link myself, but I got sidetracked.

    Sara, ew. How did you get hit by guano? And do I even want to know?

    Jama, I know, I lead a charmed life.


  9. I love the way this poem tells the story. I can feel myself there in the dark almost…

    “Then I caught the fleeting contraption

    speeding into a bank of leaves,
    and heard the high, two-syllabled piping.”


  10. Eisha, I was walking in the late evening with my husband to get ice cream on the island of Okinawa, Japan. (We were stationed at the base there, and there are a lot of caves nearby.) And a bat swooped in and let go. My husband and I still laugh about it. (Not at the time. But now, we do.)

    I had a much better experience with bats watching them stream out of Carlsbad Caverns several years later. Now, THAT is an amazing sight.


  11. Ohhhh, lovely. I’ve been a bit of a Doty groupie ever since I saw him at the Dodge poetry festival, about 8 years back. He is a lush poet, not afraid to be spacious. (I tend to be spare, so I admire spacious a lot…)
    And I especially love this because we are BIG on bats in Austin. We have the largest urban bat colony in the world — they come out from underneath our bridges like storm clouds — with their dimuniative cries…


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