Genji Monogatari, Mark Young (Rockhampton: Otoliths, 2010) 60 pp., $14.95. At Trotsky’s Funeral, Mark Young (Dunedin: Kilmog Press, 2010) 44 pp., $45.00. the allegrezza ficcione, Mark Young (Rockhampton: Otoliths, 2006, 2007, 2008) 80 pp., $14.95
I first heard rather than read Mark Young’s poetry in the 1960s at Barry Lett Galleries and at the Wynyard Tavern in Auckland, where I was a student and had aspirations to be a poet. What was immediately striking about his poems then, and remains so now, was a quality of displacement. There seemed to be three sources of this displacement. The voice I heard (and the texts I later read) had a deliberating, impersonal quality, in marked (so to speak) contrast to the jongleur or troubadour voice of Dave Mitchell, who often performed with Young. Then, the language itself, in its internal (pronouns, subject/object relations, point-of-view) and external (line endings and enjambement, syllabic weight, visual scoring) exercised a persistently sceptical and frugal sense of affect. And finally, the references, even when local in terms of a scenography, seemed most often to have been mediated by distant influences and references – LeRoi Jones (‘Gonna roll the bones’): Black / gamin / disdains all games / of chance, Robert Duncan (‘The Tigers’): Within the tiger / reels a turmoil / of desires, William Carlos Williams (‘The intention’) (i) The intention is / that I / refurbish / the room – French poets (Verlaine), artists (Magritte), and jazz musicians (most often Miles Davis).
What this added up to could be described as negative romanticism: subjectivity identified by being uninterested in winning sympathy or affection; meaning declaring itself to be uninterested in conclusions, especially transcendent ones; a presence revealed in its preference for distorted mirror-images over face-to-face disclosure; an honest preference for sleight-of-hand over ‘honesty’; and, most importantly, the poet’s liking for fictions, unreliable science, a certain droll impassivity, a relish of coat-trailing narrative, a love of the playfully esoteric.