dddddddSprezzatura is a literary term for a particular kindness of repetition one experiences in the poem or in the desert
ddddddddddddddddddddddddon the bike with the one part of the back fender a little wonky
ddddddddddddddddddddddddon the way to licking the mesa
ddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddddor just the stage clean. Sprezzatura is not repetition / in that it intends to be the kind of repetition made of insistence (alone). Repetition in the world or in the world of a Mike Young poem is also like incorporation. More so than almost any repetition I am always thinking about. “If I am here then I am here” (“Sprezzatura”). It’s a propulsion of incorporation / that is both a performance and a gruesome scene. It’s a propulsion of incorporation / that is an instinctual seeing, your lids or your lips right up against / a little more each time. “If I am here then I am here with / The world is not an argument” (“Sprezzatura”). You don’t just lick where your body was in the desert / on the mesa / on the stage. You lick a bit beyond. Maybe you go towards Paul Celan’s meridian or towards your own gaping holes leaking like a just cut open pack of fresh tofu. Maybe you get to what or who you once loved / or still love (it’s so hard to bleed around the difference). On and on. “Got a problem with this ‘ever’ thing. Who says you can’t feel strange over and over? What’s with this one-and-done shit?” (“What’s The Strongest Thing You’ve Ever Felt What’s The Strangest Thing You’ve Ever Felt”).
dddddddWhen I think of sprezzatura, I think of how it is sometimes defined in my letters to my friend B, who I am always writing to / though sometimes it does not include a page, / just some blood dumped into a vase. I asked her, “Once you recognize that you feel something, what happens to you? Do you ever drown in the recognition of a feeling?” I’ve gotten so good at allowing myself to feel things, to recognize what I feel, that sometimes it is my feelings that swallow me. I get lost. At the beginning of Young’s book, he calls on John Prine, / who defines sprezzatura the way you would standing outside the gates of Wimbledon with a burrito coupon / the way you would driving down the War on Terror Memorial Highway in Alabama. “Feelings are strange / Especially when they come true,” he says. This is huge saturation for Young, this rubbing point / this unshoveling around the idea that feelings might be exactly as stabilizing and freeing as they are the thing that causes the kid with the inner ear thing to throw up on every roller coaster she gets near. “Making people laugh is being aware of yourself / pretending you’re not” (“What Yo Personality Got To Do With That Lunch Meat”). There’s a clarity in feeling(s) that has the potential to be manipulative, to be dangerous in that it’s hard to decipher when you’re genuinely experiencing feeling(s) and when you’re failing to register the nuances and alterations of feeling(s) as they reverb / sway / shift / obliterate you.
And you are a person / I don’t know between certain times, certainly, or maybe / even at all, which is fine. Sometimes I can hardly stand myself / and I’ve got feet! Har har. I’m at a point where I want all boat / shoes to fit me or all boats in the wrong sea. Soon I will feel / different and embarrassed. But I’m trying to be right by / the feeling, and I hope you are sometimes right by / your feelings too. They try. They arrive with bones / like ampersands from the Mill of Dealing, dewy / and confident. Here, they say. We’ve got it this time. / No really (“If You Dream The Flying I’ll Dream the Sky”)
Young particularly applies this questioning (I’m not sure questioning is the right word at all. Maybe the right word is actually sprezzatura. Using a word like questioning, to me, sometimes implies a shutting down, when, here, in these poems, I mean to gesture at something else signaling an embracing that is also an uncertainty filled with potential and static / lightning) or pressure to relationships and to understanding what it means to be involved in the climate / environment that you build loving someone. Do you have a choice to love or not love someone after you aren’t with him / her anymore? “Your love will only count before it’s gone,” says the poem, “Is This a Poem For the Year 2219,” just before it crashes into a necessary garden / blast first. I always assumed I had a choice in the matter, I think to myself. “Those who live, live off the dead,” says Artaud to me, brushing the dirt off some velvet / ferns and roses twisted together. Young’s language struggles with what it means for a body to contemplate another body / any body via feelings, which are reliable and fucked, dutifully received and still excruciatingly unpredictable. In “If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold On,” Young grinds these ideas open a bit wider by complexly / rightfully texturizing the way (white) young men often learn to begin to imitate / gesture at affection through song lyrics.
A man, duh, will do the things of love he / learned from his favorite songs. Often, this / involves him spilling a bag of red lentils or / losing your cat, then turning to lines like God is a place you will wait for the rest of your life / for advice (“If I Said You Had A Beautiful Body Would You Hold On”)
When you get confused about or rattled by the ongoing terrain of what you’re feeling, where do you turn to? Do you and I turn to the same places or different ones? Do you and I forgive each other for turning the wrong way or the right way? These things are also what the reoccurring title, “What’s The Strangest Thing You’ve Ever Felt? What’s The Strongest Thing You’ve Ever Felt?” asks me each time it surfaces in Young’s book via a different, unnamed / untamed voice. I’m reading Melanctha by Gertrude Stein right now for a class I’ve been allowed to revel in the edges of and these things are also what Stein’s paragraphs ask me while crammed to the hilt with word signaling a feeling + word signaling a feeling + word signaling a feeling + word signaling a feeling. On and on.
It was sometimes pure joy Jeff would be talking to Melanctha, in these warm days he loved so much to wander with her. Sometimes Jeff would lose all himself in a strong feeling. Very often now, and always with more joy in his feeling, he had been thinking. And Melanctha always loved very well to make him feel it. She always now laughed a little at him, and went back a little in him to his before, always thinking, and she teased him with his always now being so good with her in his feeling, and then she would so well and freely, and with her purse, strong ways of reaching, she would give him all the love she knew now very well, how much he always wanted to be sure he really had it (Melanctha).
Often the word signaling a feeling in a paragraph in this novel by Stein is preceded by a word like “certainly” or “always” or “now.” It’s the “certainly” or the “always” or the “now” that absolutely suggests to a reader how uncertain, or rather, how precarious the characters’ abilities to discuss their feelings are, even if those feelings being felt / being expressed keep getting called the same word again and again. There is the same word and there is the evolution / circulation that happens underneath it. How do you access / witness it, that rare / glorious migration? Do you? I think Young, in his poems, might be pointing out how quick we, not just as people, but as poets / writers / young men listening to songs, can be to declare feeling rather than explore feeling and all its terror.
This poem obviously / has an onramp before its emotional nougat / and an offramp of exposition, / but fuck that: I am proven by everything I have / ever said and done and can’t forgive myself / for any of it because that’s what the weeping / and headphones and mountains are for (“Changing Out of my Tuxedo in the Bathroom on the Train and Shouting I Forgive You at the Same Volume as the Hair Dryer”)
This sort of dire / warm, intelligent critique / fleshing out allows us to see feeling as a release, yes, but also as a form of electrocution that renders us childish / intimidating simultaneously. It renders us exactly as childish / intimidating as we are.
dddddddSo often questioning feeling means turning to Logic / Epiphany / Clarity rather than turning to
dddddddddddddddddddthe broken Christmas tree at the edge
of some spectacular bit of cinnamon / worked into
d the edges of a canyon / or better yet,
d into the edges of a bus taking you to a part
of California you’ve never heard of
d (It’s Weed, California, says the bus driver
d with the crystal dangling from him).
A poem’s exploration of any Thing / Idea, given a poem’s inclination towards enjambed, prismatic forms, is broken / stilted / hanging off a precipice / entering into blankness / drenched in heavysmoke or sage or a text from a stranger or something like a waterfall / collapsing (“Or the instinct to document something: falls,” says Bhanu Kapil). A poem inhales too much snow and then it dreams. On and on. I forget that’s how tragic or rhythmic a poem always is. The bud set / on fire, but somehow I know to call it fusion. An ecstatic way / dangles. “Tell me when I’ll outgrow / the aggressive naïveté of boundless acceptance. / Because then I’ll know just when to shoot myself / in the terrible master” (“Strictly Pro at Newark International”). Young’s explorations are turning, in the midst of all this / with all this in mind. Young’s poems are always turning, carefully and darkly, to the strange or to detail (the small, deep portal) as hair trigger / explosion. “We all have details (pickles in a Delaware rest stop / that taste like lipstick) nobody cares about / except Tom Waits” (“Nuns of the U.S”). There’s detail that makes us uncomfortable. There’s detail that suddenly upsets our expectations. There’s a feeling I get that I refer to as sprezzatura when I’m lecturing in front of my students and I realize I’ve gone too far in revealing to them how weird / off I am. I’ve shed something / not visible in their worlds and it frightens them, though frighten is maybe not the word they would use. There’s detail that doesn’t get complicit in a high fructose corn syrup kind of beauty or if it does it’s because “belief = imagination you gave up measuring,” or so says Young’s Rilke slashing / mashing poem, “You Must Motherfucking Change Your Life.” In Young’s poems, strangeness / beauty / as it emerges through detail like the skin of a lake is not an epiphany / a kind of poetic “reward” a writer earns for simply trying / succeeding in writing or completing a poem. Rather, strangeness / beauty / as it emerges through detail like the skin of a lake is a continuation flooded with attention to mystery / othered interpretations of space. There is no action to compress detail / and the experience of it / its sound. “This plan to prove the world strange, it reminds me of / shooting people in the feet and shouting Dance! Howdy / partner. The world ain’t a stranger, it’s a body. I am / afraid of death because I am afraid of death is not what / I mean when I give you all I fear” (“Rule Number One of Everything”). “What actually could conclude a poem like this,” asks Rachel Blau DuPlessis, “Who could construct an adequate realization or summary statement capacious enough?” Does that seem extreme? Not to me. Is that why the definition of sprezzatura always has to change? Yes, I think so.
dddddddI saw Mike Young read at Unnameable Books in New York this past summer when he explained what sprezzatura was. It was a Thanksgiving dish he once had in an elevator with a family at the airport. I touched the pale stones underneath my chair and felt how natural it was to me (I’m thinking of Stein again, her standing in the gallery in Paris while the angry people try to scratch the paint off Matisse’s Woman with a Hat, of what it means to articulate this word “natural” in relation to living art), the energy of Young’s presence and the real fragility of that story. It would get told again, I realized. The story, it wouldn’t get told again, it would be different. This is the poet afraid of himself / never afraid of himself / as the sentence(ing) continues / to give the story bloodfruitstrangeness. It’s why Mike Young has always struck me as utterly brave / a poet, who like Frank Stanford, throws knives at the ceiling fan and calls it sweat / the mosquito throats of the trees. Driving home from the woods in Florida in the middle of winter, I think about this book, / the bud set / on fire, / or is it music / drifting? Driving home from the woods in Florida in the middle of winter, I am thinking about this book when I see a young woman behind a young man on a scooter. How the young woman explains it to me, / I can only describe as sprezzatura. Was it that spectacular or was it just the light / my own weirdness / salted and peaking? As we all move or stream, / she gestures, first, at the privately owned prison outside of town surrounded by barbwire and longhorn cattle. Second, she raises her hands and sort of waves / flaps / gives in to abandon / energy / a kind of fucked sun glistening off her. I don’t know what she’s feeling. / It doesn’t matter. / It travels. On and on.