Laurie Saurborn Young’s first book of poems, Carnavoria, re-imagines our human situation. With an acute and unrelenting attentiveness, Young fine-tunes us to recognize and accept our inevitable transience. Every poem catches onto moments like “a sip of wine and kissing / the air around your mouth,” until Young’s perceived landscape is one so short, so fleeting, and so “shot through with lightning,” that it becomes difficult to pull away from.
Carnavoria slides us into the slippery terrain of our everyday. It takes hold of those moments when we are without grounding—when we are out of place in our own bodies and pulled in too many different directions—and gives them a vocabulary with which to be spoken. Young writes, “Today, someone asks how I am and I say / Everything.” She then casually invites us to “Come stand in the rain […] / Then we’ll go in and put on pajamas, / the kind with feet.” In Carnavoria, Young allows her readers to join in her struggle for understanding; to come to terms with the impossibility of living in only one particular direction.
I will bring a sky and it will convince
you to look up, just as the ground compelled
me to go. In my hands I will hold melody,
the commotion of tin in air, the bodies of kings.
("Upon the Court Jester's Eviction")
In the simple span of a book, Young builds worlds for her readers—worlds hidden within the one we already live in, and ones in which we are “all types of scenery. / A translucent multiple of unmastered views.” She swirls us—and all that we know—around with her fingertip until we “become / a tally of hallucination and memory, unreleased.”
Carnavoria blurs our own boundaries and weaves us seamlessly into the natural world. It shows us “heads connect[ing] as the clouds give way,” and Young “twists [her]self up in flowers folded or in the pale calls of animals moving past.” We are given—if only for the short time it takes to read Carnavoria—the chance to disregard our own banality and to “dance like meteors.”
The best part? Young does this all with an extraordinary humility—at one point even admitting, “my vocabulary / still avoids me.” It becomes clear that any time spent with Carnavoria is time spent with safe and friendly company. Young shows us that “We know so little of what sits above our necks,” but also that she is right there with us the whole time.
Sometimes for comic reprieve, sometimes not, Young and her created worlds are visited by Roethke, Foucault, Chekhov, Atticus Finch, and others. In one poem she writes, “Calvin Coolidge and I sit on a leather couch drinking haywire…I tell [him] of a bridge named for him and he says peacock.” Carnavoria approaches these characters the same way it approaches all things—with a curious and intelligent candor that will leave you eager for more.
Go out—get yourself a copy of Young’s Carnavoria. Open it up and get a little lost. It will take you and toss you closer to home than you ever thought possible.
This isn’t scary, it’s a miraculous convolution of stripes, the tumble
of time. It’s the way I say run as I press the shutter down.