Thursday, August 11, 2022



Upon  Hearing of Another Marriage Breaking Up  is a poem that reads as it were edited with a lawnmower.  Author Dean Young reads this poem in something much less than a resounding manner--to say that his recitation was singsong would be a comparative compliment. And it would be a lie, at least of the sort you tell your ordinary friend with artistic manners, so to not hurt or offend them. What the poet offers on this soundtrack has the flat, expressionless timbre of someone in shock, before they passed out from the loss of too much blood. As a poem nominally considering the dissolution of "another" marriage--it's implied that the narrator has had several couples in his social circles disband their unions and that he is tired of it, bored with it, angry, perhaps , that they don't appreciate his standard of the good life--the poem considers not tragedy or heartache or the sullen self-recriminations and lashings-out , but rather the notion that insane lack of passion and a profusion of mired boredom proves a fatal combination for the soul. 

The passing details, like junco feathers, dog food, bat wings, other people engaged in public affection, or at least public cooperation, are things regarded with an off side glance, in peripheral vision. The narrator sounds like someone who is had has made ennui their kingdom and , while applying the psychology as philosophy, cannot truly grasp the world and the people , places and things in it. There are murky attempts to address what is clearly seen with poetic indirection, what is not entirely broken down or entirely caked in mud remains clean and useful, what makes no noise makes no problems and is perfectly okay to remain as it is, not bothering me with petty detail. The moral of this story is that the narrator, a witless husband, an Asperger's tainted poet, is unaware of the world as is and cannot see that his universe is falling apart; the flimsy assumptions are flaking , bending, curling up, cracking, blowing away . 

An ambitious scene to undertake,but it is a pity that Young cannot give you a sense of the life that is lacking in this narrator's existence. He writes as compellingly as he reads aloud. The best compliment I can pay this that this sounds like a third rate imitation of Ron Silliman's and Rae Armantrout's work; the two of them are Language poets, a school that is controversial even until now. But think what you may, there remains strong poetic styles behind each of their work, a shrewd and hard intelligence working in their seeming obscurity. Young is merely oblique. His accomplishment here is that he cannot make you care much for his poem about not caring. Humor is evident when there is laughter. Otherwise, it is attempted humor; what Young often does is attempt to engage a habit of speaking that results in ambiguity and unintended irony. This is the sort of banter the hip geek humanities major with a hard dose of reconstituted deconstruction allegedly indulges in more often than not, a pile on of dead signifiers and post-Tarantino prolixity to obfuscate a simple request, command, or observation. 

The results, I'm certain, are typically hilarious to a circle of friends tuned to the same punch lines or who have seen the same movies, the same books, the same tv shows, but if humor isn't able to reach beyond the camp fire circle and hit a broader population with funny bones, it is merely snark and sarcasm, regardless of apologetic explication. This does not imply that poetry need be as clear as sports writing; but occasionally a muddle in a poem demonstrates , for me, muddled thinking , a consciousness without an apparatus, a useful style. The muddle thinking goes beyond what the poet writes, though, as seen in the critical vocabulary that makes the production of the weak tea Young okay. The ought to cease that practice and so stop the insanity.

This poem from Dean Young's collection Private Mentor took be aback. It was a jolt, a tingle, a shooting pain above the eye. It was as if someone had just walked across where someone was already buried, someone I knew..

The first time I saw my father after he died,
he kept knocking against the window
even though I was afraid
that the cat would kill him. At least crash-

landing on the sill and then knocking more
was an improvement over the mechanical
bed, no glasses, no teeth, only Holy
shit I’m dying on repeat in his mind,

his three terrified, disgusted, bored offspring
in the ozone waiting room politely ignoring
the bilge from the grief counselor.

They’d had bad dreams before but weren’t sure
they too were cinders shooting through the cosmos
from one oblivion to another.
One thought of his convertible in the parking lot,
was it locked? One discarded baby names on her list.

One became an anvil but if you asked,
No he’d say, he wasn’t hurting anyone.

Something green hustled by whose only job
was swabbing surgery floors so it was good

Dad’s spirit didn’t cling to him, it needed
some air. How can I remember a voice
so clearly but not a thing it said?

The shrinking was immediate. Once

I thought a frog in a puddle in North
Carolina, easy to hold in my hand,
possible to protect. I was wrong.
Then after the fawn coming pickpocket close,

he gave up for years until yesterday’s
black stone on the beach with his gentle eye
for which I’m grateful still, and cherish
then heave back into the sea’s honeysuckle.

A bit surreal, and well done, definitely Kafkaesque with the blend of bewilderment and institutional sterility. It's a comic poem, I would guess, close to a comic book logic, perhaps with a bit of prime Woody Allen thrown into the mix. The image of the spirit of the dead father hovering and drifting through the site of his death strikes me as something a family survivor would come up with as a buffer against the coming shock of a parent's death; lets imagined Dad as a spirit as new spirit ambling about just as he did when he was still alive. There is a desire, primitive and grossly selfish, to let everything fall apart and drop one's pants to moon the portrait of the dead patriarch, but it's hard to muster up the courage,the brio, when the spectral father is roaming around his old places of love and work, tending to things he hadn't finished . And the moral and economic center of the family shifts and we realize, at last, that we are fully adult. It's difficult to act like a child , even when the Old Man is gone, when you know you're acting.

When my family discovered my younger brother dead in his apartment in January of 2000 , we stood numbly in the parking lot while the police did their work. After a half hour of managing only tears and half sentences, I made a joke, referring to the time when my brother, bottoming out on drugs at the time, used to sneak into our late parent's garage located below their condominium." Well, now he can move back into Mom and Dad's basement" I said. There was silence for a second, and then laughter, deep, grating guffaws from four shell-shocked siblings. And then more tears came between the laughs, and we ceased being numb and recognized the meaning our loud tears; grief and relief, mixed in gasping intervals. We would mourn the loss of our brother forever, and it was likely we were glad that wasn't yet our turn to be staring straight up at the ceiling or open sky, seeing absolutely nothing.

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