Any New Zealand readers who know Young’s poetry only by what he wrote before he went overseas in 1969 should immediately explore his extraordinary creative career in Australia since the millennium. Apparently he ceased writing for about 25 years, until the Big Smoke anthology (published in 2000) stimulated his return to poetry. Today, his marvellous blog Gamma Ways (https://mhcyoung.blogspot.com/) holds many items such as his series of René Magritte poems and his periodical Otoliths (poetry of ‘the inner ear’) which he has published quarterly since 2006 in both electronic and print forms.
The ‘Taika Waititi’ poem illustrates the imaginative ways he now works with quotation and the computer search engine. The syntax of this poem seems strangely normal, but in semantic terms the reader must make a dizzy leap from each phrase and each sentence to the next. The last two lines evoke a kind of Robert Bly lyricism, but most of the transitions are unlike Bly’s ‘leaping poetry.’ Rather, they are a wry, surreal peregrination around odd corners of our culture.
Young is a singular writer, but if this poem has a tradition, Magritte seems to be the main tour guide for his visit to Miami, Nashville, and neural space. But I’m also reminded of the work of the late John Ashbery. A few New Zealand poets are attuned to that tradition (Sam Sampson, for example), but it has been less influential in local writing than it deserves to be. An explanation for its absence is the local distrust of ‘obscurity,’ an attitude epitomised by C K Stead’s attack on such work in an LRB review entitled ‘O Harashbery!’ On that occasion, Laura Quinney wrote a reply which accurately summed up the review as ‘superficial’ because it overlooked the ‘linguistic inventiveness’ and ‘very subtle ranges of experience’ produced by Ashbery’s methods of juxtaposition.
Those same qualities enrich Young’s work. He also deserves thanks for providing us with such clear directions on how to transform a prosaic Google search into a unique encounter with an Exquisite Corpse.