Dodge Poet Spotlight: Catherine Doty

Posted on by Dodge

Welcome back to our blog series on Poetry Fridays, Dodge Poet Spotlight. We are turning the focus over to the individuals who make our programming what it is in the schools, with teachers in Spring & Fountain, and on the ground at the Dodge Poetry Festival — the Dodge Poets.

Each week, a Dodge Poet answers some questions about themselves and provides a selected poem of their own work. We hope that this will be a way for you to get to know the Dodge Poets a little better, and you can get an idea of why we love working with them so much.

Without further ado, Dodge Poet and one of the poets reading as a part of Open Doors 2013 on Thursday, October 17 at WBGO in Newark, Catherine Doty.

Photo Credit: Lauren Rutten

When did you first discover poetry?  What poets made you want to write poetry?
As a kid, I had a precocious love of words. Even words whose meanings I didn’t yet know resonated with me texturally or rhythmically. Some mild synesthesia lent certain words flavor, color or weight as well. When words began to line up and make sense, I was drawn to drama, mystery, and anything incantatory or playful. My mother, who had always read poetry to me, allowed me to paw through her big British-and-American anthology searching for pieces that gave me goosebumps. Yeats was my favorite. I loved and imitated him, as I did Gerard Manley Hopkins and (different book) Dr. Seuss.

Richard Hugo said we’ve written every poem we ever loved.  He was particularly proud of having written Yeats’ “Easter, 1916.”  What great poem are you proud of having written?
I am especially proud of having written Isabella Gardner’s “The Widow’s Yard,” Anthony Hecht’s “It Out-Herods Herod. Pray You, Avoid It,” and Peter Murphy’s “The Desire.”

What is your favorite place to read?
I find that doctors’ waiting rooms and Superbowl parties are excellent reading spots, but a secluded, well-upholstered, over-pillowed couch is best, especially if it is dog-or-catted.

Tell us about any personal habits, rituals, ceremonies, superstitions that are part of your writing practice.
My mother once declared me useless after 9 PM, and whether this declaration was a helpful insight or a flat-out curse, it remains true to this day. I write best at dawn, which, somehow, is when I am clearest, kindest, happiest and most insightful. Sadly, few people are eager to interview, date or make coffee for anyone before 5 AM.

What are your favorite writing tools?  Paper or computer?  Are there special brands, papers, pens, etc. that are important to you?
I’ve always loved a black Bic pen and a yellow legal pad for the first few drafts of a poem. When the draft develops a discernible heartbeat, I move to the computer and play with line break. I also like starting new pieces on scrap paper or the backs of old quizzes for the pentimento effect.

What is the funniest/strangest response you’ve ever gotten to telling someone you are a poet?
“Me, too” is my favorite response to “I write poems.” I usually reserve “I’m a poet” for situations in which prose writers are being directed to one table and poem writers to another…I’m not sure why.


Mischief made her lift her arms and turn
with such a look of wonder on her face
that I was not afraid to see the flames
licking along both sleeves of her flannel robe,
but stepped back, as one does from an act
of God, the better to take in her glittering
pale green eyes, her pirate’s nose, the few
yellow teeth in her little open mouth
as my mother, her own mouth open
in a scream, rushed up behind her to yank
off the blazing robe and dance on its burning,
and Grandma, naked, triumphant, winked at me
while the kettle shrieked its way to boiling dry,
and sent me from some far hilltop in her far world
a sneak peek at what it was likely I’d become:
wild-eyed and crazy and blazing like a six-gun,
nothing at all to be met with shame or fear.
So this is for her, who now has long been ash,
another small poem the last word of which is oh.

-Catherine Doty

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8 Responses to Dodge Poet Spotlight: Catherine Doty

  1. John Smith says:

    good poem, cat! it reminded me that when my father first met my mom’s mom she was in the kitchen and had just accidentally poured a kettle of boiling water down the front of her house dress. without thinking, my dad ripped down the front of her outfit leaving her exposed. i can almost hear the awkward silence that followed. hope all is well, john

  2. Madeline Tiger says:

    This amazing, unique poet has always moved me and amused me/ both at once, from
    the earliest years after I “came out” as a “poet” (still hard to use that word, as Cat implies!) Beyond our longtime deep friendship, her work has kept me close and led
    me back to the poem-path when I wandered. I’ve wondered over her poems and
    oh! her wit… inside and around so many of her lines. Aside, I’ve loved her marriage
    too, and those boys-of-hers, ever since they arrived! She has been a loving mother,
    with ease and imagination, with DEDICATION and devotion, JUST AS she has been
    this great poet that she always is. Even when she is so much “too busy” to write, she
    finds herself (she doesn’t “find the time,” she “finds herself”) writing. These are
    some of the many reasons that “Cat” inspires me. Thank you, quiet whirlwind.

  3. Bob Carnevale says:

    What a trove of lightly-worn brilliance and deep fun! And the poem!
    Apart from Grandma Luminata, I was especially jealous of “when the draft develops a discernible heartbeat” and quickly saw how even I might compose at a Superbowl party.

  4. Gail Mitchell says:

    Love Cat! Her sense of humor makes my smile spread into a grin and on to a hearty belly laugh! Kudos to Cat!

  5. Donald Daborn says:

    I had the absolute pleasure of getting to know Cat over the course of years of attending the Dodge Poetry workshops for teachers. It turned out, as fate would have it, that she is also the aunt of a good friend and colleague (allowing me the inside scoop on the background of many a poem). She is not only a wonderful poet but a beautiful human being, full of laughter, wisdom, and encouragement.

  6. Pat Whitehouse says:

    I am privileged to teach middle school with Cat. She is by far the most creative, inspirational and effective language arts teacher I have known in my thirty years as an educator. She is also my dear friend. Mwah!

  7. Nico S. says:

    Throughout my entire life, Cat Doty is the person that is immediately summoned to mind when I’m asked who influenced me. She was a teacher and mentor when I was in HS (along with Mr. Carnevale, above). When I think of her, I think of motion, energy, creativity and being boundless. What great news to see this and to read about the NEA fellowship. I hope you read this, Cat. I feel so fortunate to have been a student in a time and place where poetry and arts were honored in our public schools.

  8. Thomas Doty says:

    I have been enjoying Cat for a lifetime. Bring her younger brother I am pleased to have always loved in a world with Cat in it. We a young boy I would thrill to her homecoming from college. She always had a gift for seeing the humor in tragic moments . She paints such vivid pictures in my mind with her awesome ability to paint vibrant portraits of deeply flawed people and landscapes. Having grown up in South Paterson too I lived in the same ruins but she saw the beauty there despite evidence to the average eye.

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