I am teaching Introduction to Creative Writing this fall and the task of selecting poems for my students to read has proved daunting only in that there are SO MANY I want to share with them. Some, like this one, I don't think fledgling writers would necessarily be able to really "get" - it breaks a lot of rules (which is why it's great) and it's hard to get away with some of the things Young gets away with here unless you really know what you're doing. From a craft perspective, the takeaways might be inscrutable for beginning creative writers.
Some of this poem, I would argue, is filler, is clutter -- but very intentionally so. The effect is that the astonishing lines and images (and there are a lot of them) seem to burst out from the din he creates with the frantic rhythm of his very free verse. And those moments in the poem become all the more transcendent because of how they explode out from the white noise. They are, literally, arresting. Read it and I think you'll see what I mean. Is every idea in this poem "essential"? I don't think so -- except in how the non-essentials make the drama of the jaw-dropping lines all the more impactful. This poem has the power to stop you in your tracks. Enjoy.
Sometimes you may feel alone and crushed
by what you cannot accomplish
but the thought of failure is a fuzz
we cannot rid ourselves of
anymore than the clouds can their moisture.
Why would they want to anyway?
It is their identity and purpose
above the radish and radicchio fields.
Just because a thing can never be finished
doesn't mean it can't be done.
The most vibrant forms are emergent forms.
In winter, walk across the frozen lake
and listen to it boom and you will know
something of what i mean.
It may be necessary to go to Mexico.
Do not steal tombstones but if you do,
do not return them as it is sentimental
and the sentimental is a larval feeling
that bloats and bloats but never pupates.
Learn what you can of the coyote and shark.
Do not encourage small children
to play the trombone as the shortness
of their arms may prove quite frustrating,
imprinting a lifelong aversion to music
although in rare cases a sense of unreachability
may inspire operas of delicate auras.
If you hook, try to slice.
I have not the time to fully address
Spinoza but put Spinoza on your list.
Do not eat algae.
When someone across the table has a grain of rice
affixed to his nostril, instead of shouting,
Hey, you got rice hanging off your face!
thereby perturbing the mood
as he speaks of his mother one day in the basement,
brush your nose as he watches
and hidden receptors in the brain
will cause him to brush his own nose
ergo freeing the stupid-looking-making rice.
There is so much to say and shut up about.
As regards the ever-present advice-dispensing susurration
of the dead, ignore it; they think everyone's
going to die. I have seen books with pink slips
marking vital passages
but this I do not recommend
as it makes the book appear foolish
like a dog in a sweater.
Do not confuse size with scale:
the cathedral may be very small,
the eyelash monumental.
Know yourself to be made mostly of water
with a trace of aluminum, a metal
commonly used in fuselages.
For flying, hollow bones are best or
no bones at all as in the honeybee.
Do not kill yourself.
Do not put the hammer in the crystal carafe
except as a performance piece.
When you are ready to marry,
you will know but if you don't,
don't worry. The bullfrog never marries,
ditto the space shuttle
yet each is able to deliver its payload:
i.e. baby bullfrogs and satellites, respectively.
When young, fall in and out of love like a window
that is open and only about a foot off the ground.
Occasionally land in lilacs
or roses if you must
but remember, the roses
have been landed in many times.
If you do not surprise yourself,
you won't surprise anyone else.
When the yo-yo "sleeps", give a little tug
and it will return unless it has "slept" too long.
Haiku should not be stored with sestinas
just as one should never randomly mix
the liquids and powders beneath the kitchen sink.
Sand is both the problem and the solution for the beach.
To impress his teacher, Pan-Shan lopped off
his own hand, but to the western mind,
this seems rather extreme.
Neatly typed, on-time themes
strongly spelled are generally enough.
Some suggest concentrating on one thing
for a whole life but narrowing down
seems less alluring than opening up
except in the case of the blue pencil
with which to make lines on one side
of the triangle so it appears to speed through the firmament.
Still, someone should read everything
Galsworthy wrote. Everyone knows
it's a race but no one's sure of the finish line.
You may want to fall to your knees
and beg for forgiveness without knowing precisely
for what. You may have a hole in your heart.
You may solve the equation but behind it
lurks another equation. You may never get
what you want and feel like you're already a ghost
and a failed ghost at that, unable to walk through walls.
There will be a purple hat. Ice cream.
You may almost ruin the wedding.
You may try to hang yourself but be saved
by a kid come home early from school
or you may be that kid who'll always remember
his mother that day in the basement,
how she seemed to know he'd done something wrong
before he even knew
and already forgave him,
the way she hugged him and cried.
Nothing escapes damage for long,
not the mountain or the sky.
You may be unable to say why
a certain song makes you cry until
it joins the other songs,
even the one that's always going on
and is never heard, the one that sings us into being.
On the phone, the doctor may tell you to come in.
It may rain for three days straight.
Already you've been forgiven,
given permission. Each week, cryptograms
come with the funny papers.
You're not alone.
You may see a whale.