Days and Years by Karl Young, Membrane Press, 1987
$4.00, PO Box 11601 ‑‑Sherwood Milwaukee WI 53211
Review by Joe Napora
To see the universe in a speck of dust
Obviously my title mocks Blake. I've always been suspicious of the Romantics, even the best of them push my credibility with their inflated language claims and only years ago when I did LSD did I think I had any insight into the workings of the universe when seeing a grain of sand. Even though I still think John Clare is the best poet of the English Romantics Karl Young's Days and Years is softening my opinions about them. I have no idea if Young would consider himself a Romantic poet but I have a suspicion that he and the man from Lambeth at least would have more to say to each other than most poets who would like to be considered such. Young starts his collection with this short poem: a speck / of dust / that wetness / can form around / a sword / so sharp / it draws blood from the wind. Now Young subtitles this collection (Plain Poems, Book 1). The language is indeed plain enough and we can assume there will be more books to follow and we can hope so because these poems point to anything but what "plainness" denotes. Like the Romantics, Young is pointing to the cosmic within the mundane. And he, in a gentleness that also points away from self‑destruction (and this lesson is as important as the music of his language), points to how it is possible to "break on through to the other side."
The first poem makes the natural connection, and it is natural, feels just like what that word in spite of its being constantly debased and drained of meaning, feels just what we mean by natural, organic, unforced, slipping into our consciousness it makes the natural connection of how a cube of ice melting in the kitchen sink links us through language, through the body's metaphors, to glaciers and to how dreams melt into the wind blowing one more question for the heart's response. And he makes such magic possible for us again. And again. Every day, every day's event, no that is not possible, but he is pointing to how it might be, when he shows how such a mundane act, and act of mistaken identity evokes the living memory of a friend dead nearly a year. Going to a supermarket and finding a melon someone didn't or couldn't pay for, abandoned near the checkout and his fingers trace its surface, and we are presented not with "only" a descriptive nature poem, we are shown an insight into how a person can make that essential identification with nature, and since we are nature it should be easy, but when is it? The poem:
On this melon
the nerves in the ridges of my hands
feel ridges and valleys
older than the shapes of my cells,
and know the fibers,
the oceanic swell of clear wetness
that breaks through them,
that someone decided to leave at the last minute
here between the magazines and candybars
in the aisle of the checkout counter...
well, I move forward, face the checker
and those miners
sometimes during heavy fighting,
slept in those caves,
beneath the pictures the Sioux took
as the drawings of god.
My hand leaves the melon.
Miners chipped a little gold from those walls.
The last lines again: My hand leaves the melon.
Mine chipped a little gold from those walls.
OK. Recall this poem the next time at the supermarket, more profound, yes that's the word, more so than "Sunflower Sutra" any day. The book is a joy to read and be‑hold, for it is plainly an eloquently produced book. At the end is the contents page. It's another poem bonus, gift. Get this book now, and collect as many as are going to be a part of this series. Simply it is an important book signaling Karl Young as an important poet.
Go to complete text of Days and Years online