Young, Telling the Future Off
(Tougher Disguises Press, 2005)
Wishing for Horse Legs
getting them if the wish was written by Stephanie Young, whose
debut book, Telling the Future Off (Tougher Disguises Press,
2005) is an exercise in the creative mantra. With poem titles
chanting the bullet points of self-help manuals —"Today I
Can Relax and Let Go," "I Will Release My Deepest
Hurts Today"— the transformative power of the word is
simultaneously mocked and called upon. Because of the beauty
of the dream-like writing, the reader becomes convinced that
the future could indeed be 'told off' with language such as
asserting her requests, the author playfully/pleadingly
demands reality follow suit.
demand to speak with the king…" (22)
a message I must deliver in person
in my loud and authoritative voice" (22)
don't want to write poems
because something terrible will happen.
In the middle of this poem
there is a man entirely without skin." (81)
was only me
but the wish to be plural.
It's 1:00 so I'll make it happen." (105-6)
expressed as the spoken word, the written word, or as a hope
within the secret folds of the mind, the wishes assert
themselves, just as the physicality of the 'I' attempts to fix
itself within a changeable, fragile, physical reality—a
reality that questions "is it right to be/'in the world
but not of it'?" (18) These poems reach for places
beyond, struggle for connection as "some things are
happening everywhere" (100) else.
these fragile, fraught connections, the 'I' seeks a way to fix
herself in place, in time, amongst others:
was something wrong with my senses.
Mostly the problem of one human
enjoying or causing extreme pain to another human.
I thought about this constantly. It was confusing
and without political context
i.e. my identification with the victims didn't make
incantations, the demands on language, lead the 'I' to a more
solid state; the self/selves in the poems seek firmer ground.
And whether whispering it into the ear of a beloved or
shouting it in the racks of a department store, the message
"I AM HERE" echoes throughout these poems: "Can
you not hear the tinny tin of my fist at the story, knock
knocking my head against the poplars." (50)
trying to get your attention. Just waving my fingers to
breathe evenly, biting my tongue for effect." (29)
the scold 'bite your tongue' is an 'effect,' a non-verbal form
of communication that rather than function as a true silencer,
acts as a beacon for attention and (possibly verbal)
interaction. Throughout Telling, the 'I' admits repeatedly
that she exists in often frustrated relation with other things
and other people. And as they all continue bumping into and
off one another, she lucidly concludes that "everyone is
mired/in the same things at once." (101)
just as fond of assertion as she is doubt, Young's
declarations are often revealed to be mere words, things
shouted and eventually silenced, the lonely scrawl on a
bathroom wall, the empty mantra of an unbeliever. Once
suggested, "I am here" bounces off the 21st-century
detritus, eventually slinking away until summoned again with a
reminder to "Orient yourself." (29) In a foggy,
overcrowded world, a place where the attitudes of the nation
are registered on the t-shirts of adolescents, the subtle
markings of a poet must be X-ed on the spot repeatedly . And
the posing of questions such as "WHOM is orbiting
WHOM." (97) is essential when attempting to mark one's
poems in Telling the Future Off imagine new relations between
things, adjust the scale of objects, rework the familiar and
the expected. In "I Didn't Go Shopping?" a pair of
boots we knew as life-sized, female footwear are suddenly
reduced in scale and purpose, hanging now on a key chain. Even
the next door house creeps ominously closer.
the world closes in, objects lose their functionality.
Eventually even the body becomes unfamiliar: "I was a
monster, even at the time, even to myself." (14) As the
objects and people begin to shape-shift, the need to document
takes over. Everything seen, heard and dreamt is recorded with
care as the 'I' seeks categorization and meaning out of
disorder and anxiety:
hair is getting softer by the minute. Everything on the
counter has its base in aloe vera." (29)
me glued to the saddle" (29)
material objects in my car
take on actual suspicion" (31)
eventually, a removal from this continually shifting center is
too am looking to speak
in the third person. Without crossing anything out."
'I' seeks the cleanliness of the third person, the objective
stance of the omnicient observer. She seeks the type of
outside perfection that means never mistaking a look for
something other, that means she'll never miss the train again.
Never letting an emotinal tie get in the way of the
documentation of fact and action. And yet the contradiction is
clear, the 'I''s continued involvement with the messiness of
life and language is evident. The 'I' alternates between a
language that is fixed, "Like a delivery system
should" be (108), and one that slips around on the
I was too busy for the war? Did I think I was too busy
for the war to not be over? It's getting worse in the novel
the woman across from me is reading
'how cheaply the renditions'
and it gets a lot worse than that." (81)
the line bends, the scene extends outward from the worldly
contemplation of war and lands in the physical, local reality
of a woman's lap. And again, out of this (constructed for the
poem) reality into the plot of the woman's novel. Throughout
is the threat/thread of something becoming steadily worse.
as language is capable of tracking this progressive worsening,
the poet asks, is language also capable of causing the
worsening? Are we naïve in thinking that by speaking and by
writing, we might be a little safer, a little more in control?
Do a series of carefully arranged words wield transformative
powers? The beauty and confidence of the carefully arranged
words in Telling suggest they might and that we should all be
a little more willing to tell our own futures off—loudly and
lovingly and in the language(s) we live within and through.