Review: ‘Primitive Mentor’, by Dean Young

Primitive Mentor (Pitt Poetry Series)Primitive Mentor by Dean Young
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Sometimes it feels like enough to say that a book was insanely good.

What I previously thought of as hyper-personalized shades of emotion surrounding bouts of reflection on mortality, selfhood, ‘place’ in all the macro, cosmological meanings as well as the micro, what-am-I-in-my-various-occurrences-of-family ones turned out to really be a bit more complicated. This is a book that shifts with breakage and tremor along the fault lines that form Young’s aesthetic gesture, singular enough to converse on and on as many do about surrealist jumps, the reality of post-modern ‘collage’ that Terry Eagleton say is the only art form we’ve got left, yet of course intrinsically this just leads to more breakage and nuance (even if every last nuance is accidental, which is really what this book is ‘all about’), the camera zooming in and out on exponential scales that defy notions of sense-making in a way that reinforces every last bit of meaning we’ve felt since listening to water drip down the first cave walls.

The play with mortality is arched up by a sort of warm kindness breathed in like humid air that seems to only be visited on the patients in all the vast terminal wings; sure it’s impossible to ignore what I’ve passingly read about Young’s health issues but it beautifully doesn’t matter, the hints of this strewn with a careless ease about the book as if Young is saying ‘Sure, it’s about that, it’s about me, but let’s get a little more ambitious…’ and the camera zooms, even as it sits stationary and solitary.

It’s all surrounding the beautiful existential cognitive dissonance of knowing that we’re dust motes in the beam of sunlight, sure, but to each mote, no matter how loving and altruistic, we’re always our own universe, it all revolves around us at some manner of scale & of course before we had better math and lenses we thought that’s how it all really went about. Whether you think poetry is about yourself or not Young feels the same, knows it’s both as much as it is neither; the collage sits as a pristine metaphor because every breathing bit in every scene of every micro-poem is Young, isn’t him, is you, me, whatever. It’s the kind of thinking that dares truly sentimental waxing and Young casts coquettish glances that way yet his hand guides with far too much irony and experience to let the poems drown.

Like I said: insanely good.

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