Omaar Hena reviews
The Day Underneath the Day, C. Dale Young’s first collection of poetry, is as superabundant in its power and depth as the sea from whence it came. Young was born in the Caribbean and educated in Florida with both an M.F.A. and an M.D. from the University of Florida, and now divides his time between editing poetry for New England Review and practicing medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. Young is a fascinating poet by any standard. Formally, his rich, arresting imagery, sensuous language, and revelry in the natural world seem quite similar to William Carlos Williams, Emily Dickinson, or William Wordsworth. Young’s poetry also exhibits post-colonial tensions, where the poet, who was formerly an insider, now returns home from self-imposed exile only to feel at once attached and estranged.
You removed integument,
Young in this opening poem, and for the entire duration of The Day, conducts a relentless inquiry into the layers of physical, natural, ontological, and linguistic experience. Quite interestingly, cadaver takes kad as its root. This is the same root for such words as cadence, caduceus, cascade, chance, decay, and recidivism — all of which surface into other poems in this collection either by name or significance. Young’s poetry also reverberates with the poet’s auditory imagination, like the ‘silent’ heart which metrically beats here ‘again and again, in a pool of formalin.’ Young, who later confesses to ‘cling’ to form (and he shows mastery of many), undoubtedly welcomes the clever pun of formal in formalin. So from the very start, the reader falls into Young’s world ‘with our hands buried in the dead.’
how the sea
This poetry is ripe for post-colonial examination. Here, the speaker is as wary of his elder’s words regarding the powers of the natural world and his ‘own’ as he is about himself, a wavering self-conscious outsider. Often, Young’s speakers seems to have no other recourse but ‘the stance of the reticent, the cautious — // silence, the one sound leaving your lips,’ as he mentions in ‘Angling.’ In several other poems, he expresses a similar ambivalence, between silence and speech, action and passivity. In ‘The Philosopher in Florida’ the speaker reduces the problem of the Caribbean’s colonial history to a polar antagonism:
Our choice is a simple one:
Almost the entire final section of The Day investigates colonial aspects of Caribbean history, from the ruins of Spanish marbled esplanades to children unwittingly singing ‘Rule Britannia, Britannia rules the waves.’ Young concludes the book with a four-part sequence titled ‘Imago,’ a subversive yet lyrically entrancing depiction of Christobal Colon’s Spanish invasion into the Caribbean islands.
Jacket 19 — October 2002
This material is copyright © Omaar Hena
and Jacket magazine 2002