First Course in Turbulence, Dean Young’s fourth book of poems, displays a virtuosity of image simultaneously with an economy of words. He suggests meanings, sets tone, foreshadows later parts of poems, and sometimes does so all at once.
In “The Woman Who Parks in front of My House”, Young makes the opening words and first line break work as hard as possible. The poem begins:
The Woman Who Parks in Front of My House
hair the color of red vinyl talking
to a guy who’s walked his 10-speed
First, there is the brief, shocking image of “red vinyl talking” as if the vinyl is talking. The vinyl is conflated with the woman’s hair, which implies her hair is talking, which makes the red of her hair even more vivid and shocking. The line break gives just enough time for the idea of talking, vinyl, red hair to begin to lodge in thought before connecting “talking” to the more prosaic idea of talking to a person.
Yet the image, so brief, of talking hair conjurs the image of hair that is alive, which is a tiny jump to hair like snakes and the mythical Medusa. Medusa is never mentioned in the poem. Yet the effect of turning one to stone is essentially the effect the woman has on the guy. He talks to her yet never gets across his point, never gets beyond the intellectual to what he really wants to say. The poem works its way back through time (Tallyrand, Delacroix, Napoleon) to ancient Greek myth. Achilles and Agamemmnon “glare at each other” and generals think “We really / are going to be here forever” — all this seems to underscore that the guy might as well be a statue and the woman might as well be Medusa. Those first two lines laid the groundwork for the woman’s vividness and the guy’s drabness throughout the poem.
Take away those first images. The rest of the poem could still convey the same ideas, but it wouldn’t have the same immediacy, the same impact. The stark contrast between the woman’s outrageously lively (even mythical) hair and the guy walking a 10-speed hinged together by the word “talking” sets the stage for the guy’s later seeming despair. So much was possible that turns out not to have been achieved. Those first two lines are working very hard indeed. The woman drives off and the guy is left behind, like a statue.
Throughout First Course in Turbulence, Young displays this same willingness to pack words with layers of meanings and uses, and his poems are richer for it.
photo credit: Ryan McGuire, Gratisography