Mixed Feelings

horse (mare) with front leg brokenAs an emotion, “mixed-feelings” catches a bad rap.  But having mixed-feelings about a poem is actually a valid, and valuable, emotional response. It means something in the poem worked for you, but, at the same time, something else didn’t. There is a grey area, imprecision, ambiguity even. All spaces in which poetry thrives.

The following poem, written by poet Kevin Young, leaves me with such mixed-feelings. I know the poem has merit, but at the same time, it bothers me. There are lines that are trite, others that are cocky, and some that are incongruous. Nevertheless, the poem also displays bravado, skill and originality.  I am not fully behind it, nor in front of it. I am off to one side, spying on it.

Whatever your reaction to the work below may be, it is relevant to note that Kevin Young is a big up-and-comer on the American contemporary poetry scene. I will be sure to share a more immediately affable piece from his collection in the future.

I Am Trying to Break Your Heart

I am hoping

to hang your head
on my wall

in shame—
the slightest taxidermy

thrills me. Fish
forever leaping

on the living-room wall—
paperweights made

from skulls
of small animals.

I want to wear
your smile on my sleeve

& break
your heart like a horse

or its leg. Weeks of being

bucked off, then

all at once, you’re mine—

Put me down.
I want to call you thine
to tattoo mercy

along my knuckles. I assassin
down the avenue

I hope
to have you forgotten

by noon. To know you
by your knees

palsied by prayer.
Loneliness is a science—
consider the taxidermist’s

tender hands
trying to keep from losing

skin, the bobcat grin
of the living.

– Posted by Ana Maria Caballero, Zeteo Contributing Writer

One comment

  1. Daniel D'Arezzo

    I share Ana Maria’s mixed feelings about Kevin Young’s poem. “I Am Trying to Break Your Heart” is a poem about poetry and is filled with interesting and even wonderful lines. It is a poem about poetry, yet it fails as a poem. It is merely clever and not at all affecting.

    Robert Frost was the master of this kind of poem. He liked to say that he wanted to say one thing and mean another and be so good at it that only a sophisticated reader could understand the poem. His poem “The Oven-Bird” is one of the finest of this type. It actually has three subjects: the bird, love that comes after youth, and modern poetry written after the romantic era. In a way, the bird is not even the subject; it is merely the occasion for the poem. The poem concludes: “The question that he frames in all but words / Is what to make of a diminished thing.” The reader has the satisfaction of reading about a subject (the bird) in the context of beautiful imagery and extraordinary verbal skill and also of seeing through the scrim to the poem’s other subjects: the human heart and the poet’s art.

    Kevin Young’s poem strikes a lot of sparks but never catches fire. The problem with paratactic poems is that they don’t develop–they are barren of ideas, character, story, all the things that make up imaginative literature. Parataxis imitates the frenetic pace of the modern world and the chaotic randomness of events, but this not very interesting feature of contemporary poetry dulls the reader’s appetite. These poems tell us over and over that “language is unstable” and “the world is frenetic and chaotic.” Like, duh.

    I congratulate Kevin Young on being a big up-and-comer and I hope he comes up with something big.


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