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Mark Doty: ‘This book is not a leisurely meditation on mortality. This is my life for all to see’

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The American poet and Aids chronicler talks about drugs, gardening, break-up tattoos and letting go after years of being strong

In 2008 the American poet Mark Doty was awarded the National Book award for Fire to Fire, a volume of new and selected poems. The collection was the summation to date of a career that had already seen him pick up other major awards in the US, as well as being the first American to win the TS Eliot prize in the UK. Doty’s work had been acclaimed for its intense appreciation of the natural and emotional worlds, but he had become best known as a reluctant chronicler of the Aids epidemic in a series of books in the mid-90s that included a deeply affecting portrait of the death of his long-term partner.

Soon after the NBA Doty bought a cottage in “a non-fancy part of East Hampton. No mansions”, where he was attracted to the dense trees surrounding the house and the garden. “Although it was not one I would have planted myself,” he says, “I was drawn to it and – it is difficult to talk about this in anything other than a new-agey way – felt an energy in the soil that I could use. So I put my writing studio outside and was very in touch with that natural world and its cycles and mysteries.”

Related: Mark Doty's workshop

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