Andy Young. All Night It Is Morning. Diálogos Books, 2014. Call (504) 524-2940 or visit us to purchase a copy!
Faulkner House Books wishes you all a happy and healthy 2015. We are beginning the New Year with a review of local poet Andy Young’s new collection from Diálogos Books, All Night It Is Morning. If you haven’t yet committed to a new year’s resolution, reading more local writers and supporting your local literary community is a great way to kick off 2015. And Young’s book is a fantastic place to start.
All Night It Is Morning is a book rich with beauty and disaster. Young, who was born in West Virginia, has spent most of her adult life in New Orleans, and lived for two years in Cairo after marrying into an Egyptian family, weaves together narratives of Katrina, the Egyptian revolution, the BP oil spill, and mining disasters in a way that feels surprisingly seamless. The poems are organized not by topic or time period, but organically, so that poems from different places and times are juxtaposed throughout the book. The reader is immersed in what becomes a single narrative of the human experience. Young’s language is precise and careful, creating a kind of restrained lushness of landscape, in which no word is superfluous.
One of my favorite poems in this collection is a three-part poem titled Cleopatra. In it, Young details Cleopatra’s pregnancy, creating a stunning narrative of a woman whose womb holds, literally, the future of Egypt. It is an apt conceit for a modern Egypt transformed by a revolutionary younger generation. Young writes, in the voice of Cleopatra,
His empire is my body now.
Sovereign, he proclaims
me ill or well.
I bow to the triumvirate
of his metu,
to the advancing armies
of his blood.
And yet, as the reader knows, Ptolemy Philadephus will not fulfill this destiny. Cleopatra and Marc Antony will commit suicide and Octavian will conquer the empire, torturing the orphaned royal children by forcing them to walk through the streets in heavy chains. Even children are not spared the horrors of war. In As You Sleep, the Dead Multiply, Young juxtaposes the casualties of war with the innocence of a new baby:
Your infant face is still
like glass as the children
of Qana are wiped of their dust.
Young does not shy away from the brutality of revolution, but neither does she deny that it is essential. In Warning, she lists the inconveniences of revolution:
the revolution is not
good for personal hygiene
not good for sleep not good
for business the revolution is not
good for bill paying…
And so on. The poem ends, “Though poetry is fine,” reminding the reader that poetry is more than a quotidian pleasure; it is essential, and becomes even more essential in times of upheaval.
Her poems about Katrina illustrate this truth as well, that poetry is sometimes the only coherent way to respond to tragedy. Her poem Lower Nine is a dirge for the Lower Ninth Ward, for the lives and homes lost in the flooding. She writes,
the moon a smudge above the wreckage
here is the peace of the grave
oh lady of ruins, your head crushed to dust
where are the ones you have no eyes to see
where did they go, dragging their bags
across the bridge to find ground
where do they rest if they rest if they rest
and where would they be if they returned
the canal and its ships drift on, drift on
the canal and its ships drift on
Young looks to tragedy with a panoramic vision, seeing both the egrets, “white as bone,” and the “store lifted onto a truck.” The commerce of the canal goes on even in the face of horror, of death, of loss, but poetry immortalizes that which has been washed away.
In this book, Young gives beautiful insight into what it means to love and be a part of places that are beset by environmental and human tragedy. And for her, inevitably, tragedy is bound up with a kind of triumph: the poet’s voice rises from the ashes, the community rebuilds, the lives of the dead are celebrated, the people fight for freedom, the landscape, once broken, heals. But our responsibility to work for a better world always remains. The stakes are unavoidably high: as she writes in Deepwater Horizon, the second of her Oil Sonnets series,
The earth will not die, though it
might shrug off a continent,
convert and re-form us: fossil and dross.
In this beautiful collection, Young reminds us that we do not deserve the world if we are not willing to fight for it.