Friday, January 16, 2015

"Guidance Counseling" by Dean Young / Comment by Tony Hoagland

             Guidance Counseling

When the woman, her shoulders on the bed,
lifts her pelvis into the standing man,
it is called Dentist Office. When the man,
after an hour hiding in the closet, couples
with she of the silk flowered dress, snug
in the bodice, it is called Representational
Democracy. When the woman licks her burnt
finger, Tiny Garden Hose. Often as we grow
old, life becomes a page obscured with
too many words, like the sea with too many
flashes. Like my screaming may obscure
my love for you. How will we ever understand
each other? When the woman sits on the ladder
and the man churns like a lizard, stiff
in melting ice cream, it is called Many Dews.

     “How will we ever understand / each other?" Young’s poem is not obviously about the failure of speech, but tells a tale of comical disjointedness. Language is seen as a king of slippery impediment between people. Poetic attention has been shifted from the realm of nature (perception) to the realm of language, naming. The poem could be said to be celebratory, even erotic, in its playfulness – but it emphasizes the disturbing, nutty arbitrariness of the act of naming: Tiny Garden Hose; Representational Democracy; Dentist Office. If we listen closely, we can recognize that these coinages are in fact a parody, an echo, of commercial brand names, such as might be used to name perfumes, sell ice cream flavors, or catalogue paint chips.
     Young's poem celebrates the cornucopia of phenomena. It playfully suggests that there is a rich universe of experience to be encountered. But...our wonder has acquired a wry self-consciousness, and is directed not toward nature but toward the radical elasticity of language, and the stylistic dexterity of artifice.

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