Thursday, July 6, 2017

Brian Doyle: An Appreciation

I learned last night of the passing of Brian Doyle, a writer I admired for years, who I read too little of, who leaves behind a body of work that nourishes us all.

Doyle was the editor of Portland Magazine, the alumni magazine of the University of Portland. But that was just his day job. He also wrote novels (Mink River), short stories, prayers (how many writers pen prayers these days?) and essays (which is how I know him best). Doyle's essays sing and probe and exalt. They make moments matter.

Accessible, joyful, torrential — those are words that describe Doyle's prose. His sentences, by his own admission, begin on Tuesday and end on Saturday. He's one of those writers who, when I read him, loosens up something in my own tightly coiled style.

Consider the conclusion to Joyas Voladoras, an essay I discovered in an anthology, wrote about and used to teach the form, an essay that's yet to leave me with dry eyes. Read this and think a kind thought for its author, dead at age 60 but living on through his words:

You can brick up your heart as stout and tight and hard and cold and impregnable as you possibly can and down it comes in an instant, felled by a woman’s second glance, a child’s apple breath, the shatter of glass in the road, the words I have something to tell you, a cat with a broken spine dragging itself into the forest to die, the brush of your mother’s papery ancient hand in the thicket of your hair, the memory of your father’s voice early in the morning echoing from the kitchen where he is making pancakes for his children.

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