It’s No Good Everything’s Bad
DoubleCross Press, 2018
Reviewed by Avren Keating
Stephanie Young notes, “I can’t claim this is a translation of Kirill [Medvedev]’s translation of Bukowski” but after a wry pause concludes: “but I can suggest it.” On first read, it’s tempting to read Young’s chapbook It’s No Good Everything’s Bad as a game of artistic telephone. Several generations, languages, and contexts removed from Bukowski, the poetic impulse in this hypothetical game would be encouraged and mulled over until you’re next, and an inspired voice in your ear is urging you to echo for all involved Barbara Deming’s “We Cannot Live Without Our Lives.” However, Young’s connections are not linear in this way. In fact, she extends herself outward in multiple directions through a net of associative recollection and dramatic monologue to both reimagine artistic kinship and to reveal the inundating effects of the U.S.’s failing medical-industrial complex.
Her associative style is a nod to writers such as Bernadette Mayer and Medvedev, and not a form of literary “frankenstein,” a term Medvedev uses in his essay, “My Fascism (A Few Truths),” to criticize the Russian intelligentsia’s dependence on past tradition. Instead, she demonstrates the artistic and daily possibilities these connections can create: she connects Medvedev’s unflinching condemnation of his literary moment and the Bay Area art scene’s uncomfortable relationship with money. To these connections she attaches recent memories of being neglected with other patients in a Sutter hospital. And there is also the unforgettable fact that she’s working through all these connections while still healing from ruptured ovarian cyst. And it’s Gender Strike Day 2017. It is tricky to find a single quote that demonstrates the scope of Young’s work, since her subject matter is seamlessly interwoven. For example, she moves in one breath from
Hannah gets healthcare on the extension of an extension
we have the same coverage
Kirill and I almost share the same birth year
same generation but different
demonstrating how categories of class, gender, and nation can impact both her health and her literary creation.
To engage the overwhelming crises listed above, Young takes advantage of dramatic monologue’s ambiguity. Subject and speaker are one, and all her extensions of thought, feeling, kinship, present, and history are shown to wobble. This technique is one of many that has the potential to form as Medvedev notes, “an ideology capable of creating a single living organism.” Her poetry is an action here, a verb, something that forges multiple bonds within the inundating regulation of feminized and queer bodies. Her scope reverberates: with the same technique she condemns the medical-industrial complex and simultaneously celebrates the lack of a singular artistic influence. By praising the DIY health movement in her final address, she works to heal herself and heal those following along so that we, too, can “swagger, good-naturedly” onward and forge multitudinous bonds.
Young’s chapbook resists a patrilineal connection of cause and effect. Rather, her tangible free verse reveals the tumultuous effects our sociopolitical climate has on her body and our bodies. I find the questions her chapbook raises compelling and vital: how does an engaged individual accept the deep urge to confront all political and personal crises while also accepting that would be damn near impossible? How do we craft “an ideology capable of creating a single living organism from various political and ethnic subjects living equally together?” Her response to these questions is personal and fundamental: we must gain the resources to take care of our own mind-heart-bodies and each other.
Arven Keating is a poet and artist. They’ve published in EOAGH, Queen Mob’s Teahouse, Omniverse, and THEM: A Trans Literary Journal. Avren also hosts Waves Breaking, a podcast for trans and gender-variant poetry.