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Thursday, November 19, 2009

I'd love to have been on the jury of the Victoria Butler Book Prize this year. Patrick Lane's Red Dog Red Dog was up against Patricia Young's Here Come the Moonbathers. Is there something in the water of Victoria? Fortunately I do not have to do anything but enjoy both.

This past month I've been winding my way through Moonbathers. Wrong verb, but no verb will encapsulate this experience. Airstream was a stunner for nailing imagery, a gun found in the sand starts off one story. Think intensification and reification. Moonbathers is like getting beaten up by a delicious bully, in slow motion. Every movement is exquisite, every slam feels so brutally satisfying. This is, in my opinion, by far her best collection of work.

I think of the book as having three parts. The first consists of repeating line poems (not as in a ghazal however). In this regard, they recollect for me the poems that Stephen Watson based upon the oral tales of the /Xam Bushmen. Young's poems move forward while revisiting previous stanzas. The sense when reading is one of filmic looping combined with solid images:

A man in high boots strides over the grass.
Slap of a cricket bat, wood against pig haunch.
A dog runs the edge of the field,
the crow riding its back like a small black queen.

Slap of a cricket bat, wood against pig haunch.
And everyone's cheering like it's afternoon football.
The crow riding the dog's back is a small black queen.
My cousin turns to me and we kiss like movie stars.

Simile turns metaphor, repetitions are intensified or broadened. Such historical reflections, such miraculous invention.

The second part contains miscellaneous poems without the repetition or any particular formal unification. Changes of pace are provided by a couple of longer poems and a few that shift to prose. One poem opens in a Ted Hughesian manner:

Mice are haunted by beauty but have no time for it.

We think back to the start of Ted's: Mice are funny little creatures/you nearly don't see them

Oh but this is Patricia Young, subtle, sharp thaumaturge who will break arms and eyes with a single thought. Her mice are not such trembling nibblers. She continues:

Too busy gorging and shitting and eluding/capture or death. Smart little buggers,/
and cute too, though non-discriminating./There's nothing they won't sink their pointy//teeth into, including shoe polish and soap. /Your average mouse spends its high-octane/life shuffling off this mortal coil.

The final kickers to the book are a response to Affonso Roman DeSant'Anna's Letter to the Dead -- this is Young's letter from the dead, and a peaen to poetry and giving up poetry. They're worth memorizing. You may ask, what do the dead say? They say brilliant things evidently. Here are a few:

We manage fine without digestive tracts, pornography.

We like our indifference toward winning or losing,/our extreme position on fossil fuels.

No need for sledgehammers or private detectives.

It seems like a decent enough place. In Praise of Poetry contains it's own zingers:

It began to spit rain./Out of nowhere an undertaker appeared./It was a poetic moment

An ironic moment too, evidently, and a cliche moment, and a playful moment. She writes a haiku about it, rhymes a few five syllable words and quits. It all becomes so wonderfully hermeneutic and full of what Gadamer would define as serious play. And finally:

I quit cold turkey but I was hardly the first or most original.

Ok, I'm not one who craves personal meetings with writers, (although I would have liked to meet Anthony Burgess...or not) but if I had a list of those I'd like to meet, Young would top it. Do I momentarily idolize? Maybe, but read Moonbathers and you'll understand why.