Mar 15, 2010
Scarecrow on Fire | American Poetry Review, The | Find Articles at BNET
Like Sharon Olds (March 4, March 9 and back on Sept. 17, 2009), Dean Young is one of those poets whose style is conversational (see the discussions here on January 14 or January 31, for example), but his trains of thought are more unusual than other poets we call conversational or "accessible." Young is also an example of a poet who lays a gift or challenge upon us in just about any two- or three-line passage, whether or not we feel we've followed the whole of his argument.
I won't pretend that I always follow his train of thought or emotion, or the trails through layers of subconscious association, but almost always, I'm intrigued by the journey. Most importantly, in today’s “Scarecrow on Fire,” I rarely or never feel that Dean Young is intentionally yanking me around, being narcissistically avante-garde, a mind unveiling itself like a melon full of ellipses.
"Scarecrow on Fire" offers the very kind of gifts as a poem that it talks about in life; it puts "something small / into your hand, a button or river stone or / key to I don't know what." And "I don't know what” is Young’s honest admission that he’s wondering much more than he’s making declarations.
The title's “Scarecrow on Fire” is an image of a fake man, on fire, dying. So the poem might be a farewell from a man who's recognizing the mortality of his flesh and bones, his sticks and stones.
The speaker wonders "What counts for a proper / goodbye." Maybe the poem itself "counts," with its tentative statement at the end, concerning souls. The images of stones, black angels, and ladybugs lead magically to the conclusion that poems are like boiling water that "cajoles" souls into freedom, agitates them out of their comfort with the "solidity of the boards, the steadiness / coming into the legs."
How many lesser imaginations have linked the "breath" of poems to the vapor coming off boiling water—and then that breath and vapor to the human soul? Notice that, with appropriate modesty, Young introduces that whole chain of images and thoughts with "Maybe."
Maybe our bodies, our mortal selves amount to the inert physicality of a stick-man. It's humbling to think of ourselves as that lone bundle out in a field, trying to scare away crows (like ravens, a bird often associated with death). Yet in the end we have souls that can be "cajoled" into freedom.
That's enough for one day; my latest posts have been too long. But I have more about "Scarecrow on Fire" and related matters, might add it tomorrow.