Review of TORN by C. Dale Young

by C. Dale Young
Four Way Books
March 2011
85 pages

In TORN, C. Dale Young’s most recent book of poetry, he continues to explore the themes of human frailty, both physical and spiritual, of love and passion, and of tenderness and cruelty.

The poems in this collection beautifully express the irony of the human craving for precision and accuracy—particularly in the field of medicine and in the realm of love—and the unfortunate and inherent fallibility of both. Often Young employs repetition of a word or a phrase, guiding the reader toward understanding by modifying the context each time the word or phrase appears. This repetition also serves to deliver a sense of urgency to the cadence of the poem and the meaning of the whole.

In fact, the very organization of the collection pulls the reader forward through the book, as if moving through a life. Its sections call to mind Blake’s Songs of  Innocence and Experience.

Section I opens the book, delivering the reader into a world of heady innocence, of childhood desire on the edge of understanding, of love just beginning. Consider these exuberant lines from the poem “The Bridge”:

“And I love fountain pens. I mean
I just love them. Cleaning them,
filling them with ink, fills me
with a kind of joy, even if joy

is so 1950. I know, no one talks about
joy anymore. It is even more taboo
than love. And so, of course, I love joy.
I love the way joy sounds as it exits

your mouth. You know, the word joy.
How joyous is that. It makes me think
of bubbles, chandeliers, dandelions.” (25, 26)

By the time the reader reaches Section II, the perils of Knowledge (with a capital K) come to the fore as Young explores the human tendency toward doubt and sin. The poem “The Seventh Circle” expresses it thusly:

“Did Michelangelo dream of hell
while he manipulated shadows
in an attempt to show us heaven?
Did he betray himself with his hands

that admired the strength of other men’s hands?
If he did, we have forgotten.
Yes. Here we see the luxuries of heaven,
the bodies clothed only in light
languishing above painted shadows
that separate these glories from hell.

There will be no Cerberus in our circle of hell,
we are told, only hundreds of swaying hands
reaching up from even darker shadows.” (46, 47)

And finally, section III brings the reader forward, into a world of post-experience, of regret, judgment, and fallibility, and even a weary sort of forgiveness. Consider the following lines from “Self-Portrait at 4 AM”:

“…The mirror

is of no use. It lies, dirty and spattered
with toothpaste and beard stubble and crud.
It lies. That man staring at me is not my friend.

That man wants to hurt me. He has
hurt me before. I have hurt myself.” (72, 73)

In TORN, his third collection of diverse and beautiful poems, C. Dale Young has given his readers a celebration, a gorgeous lamentation, and an attempt, as the surgeon in the title poem tells us with despair, at perfection. And here, Young has come as close to that ideal as fallible words and human hands can.