Book Reviews

2012 Staff Picks: Carrie A. Purcell reviews Dean Young’s Bender

Dean Young / BenderBender: New and Selected Poems
Dean Young
Copper Canyon Press, 2012

By Carrie A. Purcell, Poetry Northwest Volunteer Coordinator

Dean Young’s most recent collection Bender (Copper Canyon 2012) is aptly titled. In this somewhat lengthy collection (it does cover his previous twelve books) Young’s command of discord and resolution are on full display, and the scattershot can make one feel the late-night room spin. Young is after the full force of the world’s oddities; he writes in “Frotage,”  “How goofy and horrible is life. Just look into the faces of lovers as they near their drastic destinations…Just look at them handling the vase priced beyond the rational beneath the sign stating the store’s breakage policy, and what is the rational but a thing we must always break.”

Young gleefully “breaks the rational” in Bender.  His narrative voices are by turns drunk, acerbic, wistful, ridiculous, tender. They speak with authority, however, even if only over the non-sequential details of their biographies: “It seemed … all would be familiar as the beloved’s name heard in a crowd, my jacket unwashed but absolved, patched by a woman who joined the Peace Corps and lost all her hair to a disease that mostly afflicts chickens” (“Note Enclosed With My Old Jean Jacket”).  Young discombobulates by offering one familiar shouldering aside another until we give up and decide to roll along wherever he goes.

While most selected editions proceed chronologically, Young decided to take a page out of Auden’s book and order these poems alphabetically.  The result is a fascinating enjambment of images that allows the reader a glimpse not into the poet’s progression, but rather his process of reordering, giving flesh to then disrobing, or poking at the various icons he finds meaningful.  Heavy hitters include: clouds, hearts, paperclips, fire, bivalves, insects (especially crickets), sex, the sea, poetry, and the self.  Finding an image from one poem inside or titling another further along, but knowing that they may have been written thirty years apart is one absurdity Young uses to keep the collection fresh.  For example, he writes in “Inverness Gray:” “Bend a paper clip back and forth, it breaks, the molecules can only take so much.…bodies slamming bodies, bent and bent until only a few traits remain.” Eighteen pages later we read in “Lucifer,” “Forever and forever the unbalanced, the beautiful bodies bent back like paper clips, the discharged blandishing cardboard signs by the exits.”

Of course Young’s heart condition informs the collection, but the mortality he presents absurdly waits for us like the end of “Dog Toy.”

he goes
on a talk show with …
a woman who had exhausted all
conventional treatment but when
all hope seemed gone,
she just started concentrating
and drinking a lot of water
until she was completely healed
and able to move paper clips without
even touching them.  What are you
waiting for?  You’ve already
been given your free gift.

At Bender’s end, readers find a fresh awakening to our hilarious, perilous lives.