David Young, the distinguished poet and translator, offers us a gorgeous cycle of poems attuned to the Midwestern seasons--to weather both emotional and actual. A writer of thrilling invention and humanity, Young beckons the reader into an effortless proximity with the fox at the field's edge, with the chattering crow and the startling first daffodils of spring. In his tour of both exterior and interior landscapes, the poet scatters his father's ashes and remembers losing his wife, Chloe, to cancer, a loss at times still fresh after several decades; pays homage to the wisdom of the Chinese masters whose aesthetic has helped shape his own; and reflects on the gladdening qualities of a walk in a snowstorm with his black labrador, Nemo:
and in this snowfall that I should detest,
late March and early April, I'm still rapt
to see his coat so constellated, starred, re-starred,
making a comic cosmos I can love.
Young's expert shaping of this world in which, as he writes, "We're never going to get God right. But we / learn to love all our failures on the way," becomes for the reader a fresh experience of life's mysterious goodness and of the abundant pleasure of the language that embodies it.
Part faithful Labrador, part laboratory of an "emotion / so large and mute it has no name," this collection, poet and translator Young's 10th, documents a man inching closer to the end of his life with humor, wonder and an impressive lack of self-pity. Much of the humor in these poems comes from a plainspoken exuberance the poet seems to have learned from translating the Chinese poets. In "Walking Around Retired in Ohio," after Lu Ji, Young writes, "I get up at dawn these days, / ...get up and dress, then hesitate- / there isn't anywhere I have to go!" These wry moments thread through the book, but the speaker's deeper losses are what provide its center. In a series of dated poems, a father's death, an exploded spacecraft and a long-dead wife provide the occasion to explore what's left when "the body simplifies to mottled matter." Young keeps these and other poems' pain at bay with a subtle formal mastery-his modes include the abecedarian "Gnostic Hymns," nursery rhyme, prose and tight-lipped Celanian stanzas. The floundering moments occur when there's not enough humor or formal acuity to frame the plain sentiments expressed, as in "I Wear My Father," a poem in which the speaker sees himself becoming his dead father. When Young is at his best, however, his plainness, after "giving a little shrug, / then vanishing," reveals "the blue snow moment," a sudden beautiful clarity.
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September 10, 2007
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