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Sunday, February 15, 2009

The New Savagery

"The New Savagery" is a poem by my uncle, Dean Young, from his book embryoyo.

Here's the first stanza:

What does the new savagery
require of me? If I pound a nail
into the wall, the wall is my heart.

I texted Deano this morning, at 8:14 AM: "Can I name my blog after one of your poems: The New Savagery?"

I live outside Philadelphia, in a small, drunk town called Ambler. Deano lives in Austin.

He texted back at 9:15 AM: "Of course u can!"

So now "The New Savagery" is also the name of this blog.
This is how Merriam Webster defines "savage":

1 a: not domesticated or under human control: untamed  b: lacking the restraints normal to civilized human beings: fierce, ferocious.

I recently spent a few days laying on my back on my bed reading The Savage Detectives by The Great Alberto Bolaño. The book begins as a straightforward narrative of a group of "literary guerillas" in Mexico City who name themselves the "visceral realists." 


 The group is led by two young poets, Ulises Lima and Alberto Belano. But 139 pages in, the novel changes form; for the next 450 pages, The Great Bolaño offers first-person accounts from scores of friends, enemies, associates, and lovers of Ulises Lima and Alberto Belano. 

The first-person accounts enhance and sometimes contradict each other—they’re given by people whose lives briefly intersect with Lima’s and Belano’s from 1976 to 1996. Even so, a story develops, in the details, and page by page the novel gains momentum, and a growing sense of dread. Strange, seemingly unrelated details begin to circle around each other, sometimes merely flirting with each other, sometimes exploding into the momentous, as the poets move from Mexico City to San Diego to Paris to Barcelona to Tel Aviv, and beyond. 

Out of the mess of details, we learn that Arturo Belano is clowning around, working variously as a dishwasher, or a night watchman for a campground. And yet, instead of inspiring his story with comic glee, the absurdity of Belano's lifestyle conjures violence. At one point, Belano calls a friend and asks her to show up at a local beach so that she might “see him.” The idea sounds sad and insane and the friend begs the question by asking, “Are you planning to commit suicide?”
 

On the beach later, the friend describes, in hazy detail, a strange scene:

"Only Arturo and the first man were left in the middle of the beach. Then they raised what they were holding in their hands and struck them together. At first glance I thought it was walking sticks and I laughed, because I realized that this was what Arturo had wanted me to see: some clowning around, a strange kind of clowning around, but definitely clowning around. But doubt crept into my mind. What if those weren’t walking sticks? What if they were swords? "

In fact, they're swords, and they're ridiculous.

Another witness describes it like this:

"In a brief moment of lucidity, I was sure that we’d all gone crazy. But then that moment of lucidity was displaced by a super-second of super-lucidity (If I can put it that way), in which I realized this scene was the logical outcome of our ridiculous lives."


The Great Bolaño in his study

I have a vague but perceptible goal in writing this blog: to clown around, yes, but also to offer, in earnest, my own series of strange, seemingly unrelated details--details that might begin to circle around each other, sometimes merely flirting with each other, sometimes exploding in a moment of discovery, as I move through a range of topics, from love to health, from to writing to style.

Blogs can be meaningful, but short-lived. Here's the fourth stanza of Deano's poem:

I will write another long last letter
about what I had for lunch, what had me
and you will understand my feelings,
how they only want to feel yours 

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