Thursday, November 02, 2006

Monica Youn's Barter

One of the most interesting poets to read in Ottawa with the infamous "poetry bus" had to be Manhattan, New York poet and entertainment lawyer Monica Youn. The manuscript of her second collection was only sent to her publisher a couple of weeks before she was here, but I've been going through her first collection, Barter (Saint Paul Minnesota: Graywolf Press, 2003). In a collection of smart, smart poems, I like the point to point to point straightforwardness, the hesitating line breaks, and the complications made through the simplest of language.

A Parking Lot in West Houston

Angels are unthinkable
in hot weather

except in some tropical locales, where
from time to time, the women catch one in their nets,

hang it to dry, and fashion it into a lantern
that will burn forever on its own inexhaustible oils.

But here—shins smocked with heat rash,
the supersaturated air. We no longer believe

in energies pure enough not to carry heat,
nor in connections—the thought of someone

somewhere warming the air we breathe
that one degree more ….

In a packed pub during the World Cup final,
a bony redhead woman gripped my arm

too hard. I could see how a bloke might fancy you.
Like a child's perfect outline in fast-melting snow,

her wet handprint on my skin, disappearing.
The crowd boiling over, a steam jet: Brrra-zil!

And Paris—a heroin addict
who put her hypodermic

to my throat: Je suis malade.
J'ai besoin de medicaments.

Grabbing her wrist, I saw
her forearm's tight net sleeve of drying blood.

I don’t like to be touched.
I stand in this mammoth parking lot,

car doors open, letting the air conditioner
run for a while before getting in.

The heat presses down equally
everywhere. It wants to focus itself,

to vaporize something instantaneously,
efficiently—that shopping cart, maybe,

or that half-crushed brown-glass bottle—
but can't quite. Asphalt softens in the sun.

Nothing's detachable.
The silvery zigzag line

stitching the tarmac to the sky around the edges
is no breeze, just a trick of heat.

My splayed-out compact car half-sunk
in the tar pit of its own shadow—

strong-shouldered, straining
to lift its vestigial wings.

At the reading the group of them did, her poems immediately struck; given the strength of the poems she read while she was here, a series of poems on Ignatz from the Krazy & Ignatz cartoons of the early twentieth century, it easily makes her new work far and away ahead of what she did in her first collection; I am very much looking forward to what else she has to offer. Will a second collection happen next year? Can I wait that long?

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