Today I woke with that feeling hovering over the skin, like maybe I’m living someone else’s life, which rather than depress or disrupt, rather injects an needy empath like me with a grave, kinetic urgency for each & every moment. Top of the list of small-but-distracting agitators today is the fact that I can’t find the envelope this spirit I inhabit has been stuffing with an assortment of poems & collages, along with a letter, this body I find myself inside had been itching to send Dean Young--this brain’s favorite poet & a former self’s grad school mentor. If I learned one thing from Dean (though the mountain of quotes & anecdotes I lug say much more knowledge I’ve surely acquired), it is that poems are not modes of communication (“poems are not a horn you blow your shit through,” I once remember him saying in class); if I have learned one thing from my vast times living in the middle of elsewhere, it is that letters certainly are.
Now comes flooding a memory of a letter Mary Ruefle sent to an old pal of mine, another influential poet I’ll leave unnamed though whose moments & verse are stitched here inevitably; she dusted the page with perfume & a small drawing, if memory concocts properly. “All poems are a form of hope” is what Dean Young declares in his latest. For me, the hope is in the future possibilities that the poem represents. The poet lives, has lived! Another poem will be written! I’m about to see something I’ve never seen, yay! That’s what the best poets insist in us, I think, even if they are in fact dead or a thousand miles away (real or perceived); luckily for us, like these new volumes & like the vigorous poems within, MR & DY are anything but dead!
Once I saw MR open a reading by demonstrating how to fold a fitted sheet. Once DY let me come over to his house so he could sign a copy of his book for my parents. It’s not what is communicated, what meaning might get made, etc. It’s about the grand possibility of the raddest gift of human consciousness--language.
In these two new books -- Solar Perplexus by Dean Young & Dunce by Mary Ruefle -- I found what I have come to expect from these personal Mt. Rushmore poets. DY is pushing the limits of contemporary poetic disjunctive & dysfunctional utterance through odes, occasional, & litany-laced poems, while MR is dancing in brevity & the anecdote as modes for reflective revelation. We find MR in continued conversation with the contemplatives, the Japanese poets. We find DY channeling the huge spirits of the lost bodies (Tomaz Salamun, James Tate, John Ashbery). Even in this check-marked expectation, there is a reverberating baffling quality of where those modes & meanderings lead.
Once DY wrote a poem called “Mary Ruefle Poem,” which she published in one of her books, & MR, likewise, wrote “Dean Young Poem,” which he plopped inside his own volume. In a recent interview at Neon Pajamas, MR recollected very simply this collaboration, “It was a lot of fun to do. It was like trying to channel him. I don't really remember. I loved the project, I love that we did it.” No extravagance, no nostalgia, no fabricating. The poems in her new book hark a similar herald, gluing plain memories & crisp language to the page. She reminds us in the power & difficulty of brevity.
DY, likewise, spins some smaller webs, among his normal page-and-a-halfers, but anywhichaway, these poems enact what DY has been preaching for years. Take this ending paragraph from a short 2005 essay in Poetry Magazine: “Poetry’s primary & perhaps only obligation is, through the manipulation of its materials, to express and discover forms of liberty, thereby maintaining the spirit through constantly renewed meanings. Its greatest task is not to solidify groups, is not to broadcast, but to foster a necessary privacy in which the imagination can flourish. Then we may have something to say to each other.” This chunk of his, fairly enough, could be its own review for each & every DY book.
I will be honest with you--I did not even know these two heroes had a new collection out till my buddy Brendan sent me a screenshot of a DY poem after he carried it home from a bookstore. “How embarrassing,” I thought / felt. But of course, these two might would say it is better this way. I do not attend poetry readings anymore. I live nearly two hours from the closest bookstore with a reasonable poetry selection. I have not spoken to a poet in person in months! Instead I have been clapping through the clutter of my grandpa’s nine decades, setting up this Future Barn for hopefully a few more. I have been walking the dogs across the family field. I have been reading & writing, hallucinating & cutting out, inventing & drowning in lots of words, both my own & others. Still, the joy these two poets have once again brought me is paramount to my continuing, obvious in my grinning. I couldn’t quit poetry if I tried, as it stitches together my hide.