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Arts & Culture

'Blackacre': A Collection Of Poems About 'Searching And Being Buffeted'

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Monica Youn's new collection of poems "Blackacre" takes its title from a 17th-century legal term. Our reviewer Tess Taylor says Youn turns the legalese into poetry.

TESS TAYLOR, BYLINE: As well as being one of the most consistently innovative poets working today, Monica Youn is a Yale-trained lawyer. And so as all lawyers do, she learned in property law that blackacre is a centuries-old legal term that stands in for a fictitious estate.

In legal practice, positing a blackacre has been used to explore laws about easements or environmental rights or whether or not farmer A will eventually owe farmer B potatoes. This might be a bit far afield from poetry, but in this case, the estate Youn is looking to claim is the estate of the body, specifically the body that wants to conceive a child.

In this book, both the body of the speaker and of the longed-for child are held up as fictions, sites that can be thought about and named but may or may not be wholly claimable at all. This means that Youn is essentially writing a study of longing for something at once internal and out of control, something highly envisioned that may never come to pass.

What does it mean to imagine claiming something as strange as a baby or, for that matter, a self? What, in the end, does it mean to hope? These are open questions, and Youn mines them with precise skill. As she circles ideas of barrenness and fertility, Youn unsettles the way we imagine our possessions, interiors or borders at all. What is the work of desire? What slips away even as we try to name it? Glancing off mythic landscapes, slipping by Homer and Milton, Youn's poems also thread through, as she puts it, radiant squares of sensation, the body a dichotomy of flesh and blood. At what point does this lacework shift over from intricacy to impossibility, she asks?

Youn's poems, luminous fictions, also capture the sheer force of imagining itself, the slippery elusive loops of desire. Youn writes, it is almost unseemly - this exalting - the maypole the seed has made of its body.

SIEGEL: That's Tess Taylor reviewing "Blackacre." It's the newest collection of poems by Monica Youn. Tess Taylor's most recent book is "Work And Days." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.