Elizabeth Marie Young, Aim Straight at the Fountain and Press Vaporize

Publisher: Fence Books
2009, 64 pages; paperback; $15

in aim straight at the Fountain and Press Vaporize, which won the 2009 Motherwell Prize, Elizabeth Marie Young creates miniature, language-rich worlds that transcend history, mythology, and poetic form. Young goes beyond simply retelling the histories and mythologies of the world; instead, she reinvents them in the creation of microcosms that, while allowing for the subjective experience of the individual poet, weave in a collectivity of knowledge, experience, and place that gives a reader easy access into the worlds of each poem.

Along with the accessibility of her microcosms, which are carefully crafted through attention to rhythm and meter, Young explores how the prose poem can be reinvigorated not only by the content the poet chooses to explore beyond the lyrical I, but also by employing tools of verse, such as iambic pentameter. For example, in “Imagining the Diacritics of the Great Next Death,” Young blends rhyme, meter, metaphor, and image into a prose poem, which presents the unreliable relationship between history and truth. Young takes this idea further in “Another Ruler Thrones Triumphantly atop His House of Fame.” There she writes that “bad history only constructs its hall of mirrors out of happy endings,” reminding us that all history is subject to revision.

Still, Young stresses that revisions of history allow for a reinvention of form, language, and exploration of content. Thus, revisions should not be entirely discarded. Perhaps this reshaping of form is best described in Young’s poem, “Lecture on Organic Form,” which suggests that all reinventions of form help shape one’s experience of history and collectivity:

What’s left of a glass body when the glass is swallowed whole for its abstract, fragile beauty? Pouring water into forms that leave no fear behind them, only freedom not to blast artifacts from museums. The curator had shaped them softly with her science but their symmetries were gone before they’d hardened into wisdom.

The titles of Young’s poems also call attention to the reshaping of form and content through transcendence of history. They range from the seemingly serious (“Lecture on Organic Form”) to the hilarious and ironic (“The Road of Excess Leads to the Palace of Wisdom,” “60 Degrees Outside but It’s Still Snowing at J.Crew,” and “Was that Your Kid Caught Photo-Flirting on a Hallmark Holiday?”). The titles of the poems even appear in alphabetical order, with the exception of “Empty Space is Vast Inside the Cells of Human Wit,” which brings one to question whether Young purposely misplaced this title to call attention to the imperfections of wo/man-made objects, which include historical texts, mythologies, and essays on form and content. Whatever Young’s intention in misplacing the poem may have been, her attempt to reconstruct miniature worlds by deconstructing the unreliable, subjective revisions of history is praiseworthy. Aim Straight at the Fountain and Press Vaporize should serve as a healthy rebuttal to any critic who still romanticizes the idea that history and the lyrical I have never lied to us.

-Caitlin McCrory