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.
However, though consisting mostly of pages whose appearance is of prose, the book is best understood within the span of Young’s poetic output. The ancestral Allegrezza, who it appears may have been involved in the history by which the Mahayana Sutras came to China – ‘the Kingdom of Wei – (or were interrupted in their journey), makes a ghostly appearance in the ‘Introit’ section of At Trotsky’s Funeral (2010);[iv] and again, this time named in full as Umberto Allegrezza, in ‘[fragment]’.[v] These sections of the book both appear as ‘prose’ pages, but read (along with others) as integral to the poetics of the book, which opens with a short poem of three couplets (A Philosophy of Ficciones). The formal purpose of this arrangement is to render an already aphoristic sentence even more precisely focused:
(iii) ‘For Jorge of Burgos’, in Mark Young, At Trotsky’s Funeral’ (2010), p. 9.
Novelist, poet and critic IAN WEDDE has recently shifted from Wellington to Auckland. His new novel The Catastrophe will be published by Victoria University Press in 2011.