CHRIS MANSEL Reviews
Pelican Dreaming: Poems 1959 – 2008 by Mark Young
(Meritage Press, St. Helena and San Francisco, 2008)
This a huge volume of poetry by any standards: 411 pages including four pages of non-poetry. When you put together a collection spanning this many years you expect to find some that should maybe go by the way side and there are a few--for instance: “La Rive gouache,” “Xanthippe” and “The Age of Enlightenment.” But you have to remind yourself as a writer that not everything you write is going to be up to the standards of the great quality of other material you have written. However, don’t let this lead you astray from thinking there isn’t some poetry here that will make you glad you bought this book.
Thomas Fink is very emphatic in his introduction concerning the ability and style of Mr. Young’s writing. Never before have I read such an impassioned intro. It’s because of what follows the introduction. You turn to the opening poem: “My hands had forgotten Lorca.” The first four lines are enough for you to turn page after page—
Though my body was full of him, for I
had spent part of last Saturday discussing,
his poetry with a Chilean sailor, my hands
had forgotten Lorca.”
—Frederico Garcia Lorca, who is mentioned in the poem, whose name is in the title. Could the sailor in the poem be Pablo Neruda? Could the writer have moved on from Lorca to Neruda? You could almost forgive him for this. You can imagine Neruda, when he was smuggled out of Argentina instead of how he escaped, seeking passage on a ship and running into the writer and discussing Lorca. Imagine Mark Young’s discussion with them both.
Mark Young does something that many of us in the writing and music world have done and that is collaborate with the genius from Finland, Jukka-Pekka Kervinen. In Thomas Fink’s introduction Mr. Kervinen is only mentioned very briefly. This is tantamount to saying John Coltrane was a mere sideman. The two appear together in the sections, "The Oracular Sonnets" and "Poles Apart." These selections are from two books in which Mr. Young and Mr. Kervinen collaborate. Here is a sample poem that I found mind-blowing:
Oracular sonnet #1
Roads seesaw towards
the oracle. No, not Delphi. It's
the one in Delphineum Drive
I'm talking about. The old man,
living alone with his
cats & coughing & codeine
who reads your fortune
in a greasy pack of Tarot cards
that I'm sure is also
not the full deck. Sees all, hears
just enough to have some
idea of what you want to
hear. Gives it to you. Not what
I want, a rhetorical oracle.
As you can see, there is fine work here.
Overall, this is a book that I would recommend: a handsome volume for your library.