Review of Laurie Saurborn Young’s Carnavoria
H_NGM_N BOOKS, 2012. 102 Pages. $14.95
Reviewed by Karissa Morton

Though woefully lamenting that “there is only so much that can happen / before your actual eyes,” Laurie Saurborn Young’s debut collection, Carnavoria, serves as a thoroughly impressive compendium of these happenings, proving that she is a master not only of observation, but also of transformation. Whether “safe or biblical,” no subject is outside the range of either Young’s eye or imagination.

Here, Young achieves something all-too-rare in the world of contemporary poetry, synthesizing what poet Linda Gregg famously details as the two types of “seeing”—artistic and deliberate. With wisdom and purpose, Young both records and re-imagines each realm—from physical to mental, emotional to spiritual—to which she is intimately bound.

Hers is a voice that calmly stands its ground, accepting that we can “do nothing about light crashing back through the world,” yet refusing to thereby resort to a nihilistic way of engaging with that world. Instead, her speakers are each acutely aware, acutely awake. When, in “Goodnight Moon,” the speaker muses on the daily occurrence of people asking how she is, her response of being “everything” is delivered with a sincerity that resonates throughout the book, from speakers who stand below the porch light to become “the moth tangled in my hair” to those who bring their ears “down to the yard’s level, humming / to the grand exaggeration of being.”

Young’s speakers, though varied in their subjects of address, retain a consistent sense of voice & tonality. Unwaveringly intelligent, they speak of carrying Chagall in their pockets, reading Nin to their lovers, and attempting to decode Ecclesiastes, but they also find equal wonder in things like “how a rock clatters into an empty well” and leaning “from a bridge / to see my shadow cast in water.” Young’s constant awareness of her surroundings first manifests in Carnavoria as an inspiring ability to record them as the deliberate sights many of us fail to acknowledge, but while some poets may stop there, she refuses—instead pushing herself to sculpt them into deeply artistic sights. The trampled-upon thistle is not only noticed in Carnavoria; it’s imbued with another layer of life, focused upon with both eyes and heart until it becomes “five / wounded bodies galloping to everywhere; // past shipwrecks, past flannel, past the intention / of owls.”

Though the speaker in “Everyone Knew it was Roethke” acknowledges that “of course” she “cannot recite every myth of creation // sprung from the loam,” Young’s fully-apparent confidence of voice allows her to craft each poem into its own small myth wherein the body is nothing short of “an exhibit of bone // and coin. Of copper and porous / meeting along a wayward spine.” Both vatic and dynamic, Young’s speakers find joy in the way gravity is “the best proof of angels” and in the Buddhist wisdom of how things are “always // this way.”

Her poetics, though transcendent, are also distinctly material, rooted to the earth in unique and visionary ways. Compelling readers to “stop counting the ways we // have not yet become who we were” and reminding us that we “are more than the fight of our history,” these speakers instead emphasize the “sliver of royalty” in the turtle, the “cups of clarity” that accompany “throwing apples for [the] dog to catch,” and the glimmer of the “beetle / rest[ing] in sanded shadows.”

When the reader steps into the meticulously beautiful worlds of Young’s speakers and follows their lead to be more like “clouds leaning away, no suffering,” she will also find that “it does not matter / where I am. Here is the best inch in view.” Indeed, every inch of each of Young’s poem-worlds—even those filled with the hospital beds of people “no good at dying [who] // keep on with it anyway”—is detailed with a sense of appreciatory reverie that prompts the reader to join Young in praise for everything down to the tiniest of “little sparrows” hopping after crumbs.

Although the speaker in her poem “Call Me” insists that “no one loves everyone,” Laurie Saurborn Young is a poet who gently but assuredly leads each of her readers by the hand into the world of Carnavoria—a world where this exact sentiment becomes not only possible, but utterly enticing.
Karissa Morton hails from Des Moines, Iowa, & is currently working under Larissa Szporluk as an MFA candidate at Bowling Green State University, where she also teaches courses in creative writing & freshman composition & works on the staffs of Mid-American Review & Revolution House.

Comments are closed.