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Michael T. Young

Michael T. Young's other two collections are The Beautiful Moment of Being Lost and Transcriptions of Daylight. His chapbook, Living in the Counterpoint, received the Jean Pedrick Chapbook Award from the New England Poetry Club. He received a fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, a William Stafford Award, and the Chaffin Poetry Award.


"I keep finding what others leave behind," writes Michael T. Young. What does he keep finding? Memories, which he calls "another flowering of imagination," "the shadows/of railings and benches;" and "the glittering text / of macadam after rain." His poems are rich with epiphanies which are the more ecstatic because they feel so modest and unforced, accumulating as they do in "the margins of everyday disorder." Nothing is lost on this thoughtful and gentle writer, whose poems pay continual tribute to the joys of vigilant attention.

– Rachel Hadas

Michael T. Young's The Infinite Doctrine of Water is full of intelligence and honed craft. The poems invite one in with a plainspoken ease that is anything but casual. His riding of sounds to the discovered image (e.g., "flies unzipping the air / in busy gratitude") is one technique that bears gifts again and again. His poetry stems from observation and reception—not only the long-standing poetic tradition of the empathetic walkabout (often in Whitman's and Melville's lower Manhattan), but, more importantly, the attuned listening to the noise of prayer, blather, and heartbreak surrounding us—and the correlating songs that rise from within.

– BJ Ward

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The Infinite Doctrine of Water

Between a Droplet and a Deluge


The Infinite Doctrine of Water, by Michael T. Young, explores contradictions that trouble and enrich our lives. While water is essential, floods can kill. This collection also brings to light the extraordinary; the poet teases out insights that a lesser mind would ignore. His humanity and ability to observe guides the reader through paradoxes, ultimately finding them redemptive.

The collection opens with a sonnet-like gesture, “Advice from a Bat.” Written in second-person, it shows there is much to admire and learn from this macabre creature, recalling Roethke’s “The Bat.” Young’s poem, however, becomes an ars poetica: “Retreat to a cave no one believes in.” In other words, dare to write in an aesthetic that may not be popular; embrace a position that is not widely championed. Be authentic. This advice serves Young well.

Reminiscent of The Metamorphosis, transformations populate these pages. A mythic tone informs “Molting,” “Sometimes she can feel her wings growing.” What we encounter in the poems shimmers, dissolves, and changes as we read them.

The reader can also see a Keatsian negative capability. Young accesses this position as an extension of his openness to experience.  He’s receptive to comprehend, and therefore, to grow. He writes, “It’s the nameless power of its bark / that arches over me where I sit / gnawing its roots and curiosities, / growing stronger with hunger.” Indeed, a “nameless power” surges through Young’s cadenced words, which contain another paradox—that hunger can nurture.

A philosophical yearning emerges. In “The Reservoir,” Young asserts, “For years people slaked their thirst / at the source of things.” Longing, call it nostos, propels this collection, as if the poet is aching to return to “the endless blue into which they expanded.”

Another poet who wrote of bodies of water as symbols for time, the unknowable, and the inexorable was Elizabeth Bishop. She was once quoted as saying that she wasn’t writing about thought, but about a mind thinking. Similarly, Young brings us into the process of his thought. His cognitive leaps work as metaphors, proffered to the discerning reader. For example, in “Bioluminescence,” we begin with Rembrandt’s Philosopher in Meditation and end with a fish that emits light in the ocean’s “perpetual night.” Similar to Rembrandt’s use of paint, Young is writing chiaroscuro. He delves into the depths of human darkness to encounter light. Sometimes it eludes him.

“Hungry ambivalence” follows this poet who lives in and a part from the world through his piercingly accurate perceptions of it. He opens the poem “Treading Water” by peering at the Hudson, a body of water that appears to be both beginning and end (fusing and reconciling contradictions). Young is mapping an ontological conundrum. But instead of turning from it, he makes room for ambiguity. Young states, “[C]urrents / … wagging at the fluidity / of the historic, the generosity of chance.” Here again is the poet’s humanity, acknowledging the vicissitudes of fate.

In “After Rain,” we read, “[N]othing profound is safe. That’s why / its chasms are hoarded or pawned in each drop.” A melancholy quality emanates from some of the poems. In them, Young leans towards a more idyllic reality, one that exceeds human understanding, “beyond reach and comprehension.”

“Like Rain” tells us, “[T]he way it all seems to rise and write itself in the hot summer air, / a suggestion of wings and ethereal choirs.” Here’s an example of Young’s attention not only to the what of poetry but also to its how. Never is there so much as an excessive syllable, for this poet knows that in order to penetrate the reader’s unconscious, in order to enter deeper realms, a poem must sing—be it a chant, a lament, or a canticle of exaltation. To be sure, each phrase is musical, even psalmic. Each phrase is a current in an underground river, coursing from poem to poem, arriving at “The Voice of Water.” Young concludes, “Even after you’ve closed the book, / it keeps reciting the lines.” These lines will resound in our minds long after reading this necessary collection.

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