Joshua Young’s second book, published as part of Mud Luscious Press’ Nephew imprint series, is a screenplay-in-verse. Young is no stranger to blending poetry, prose and playwriting; his first book was “When the Wolves Quit: A Play-in-Verse” (Gold Wake Press, 2012). Divided into three acts, “To the Chapel of Light,” is obsessed with storytelling and portrays a surrealistic, almost dystopian version of the southern United States. Nephew specializes in “linguistically jagged, pocket-sized titles that redefine language” and boy, this book delivers outstandingly on that principle.
With the players listed on the opening page, the reader will instantly recognize that the camera is the only inanimate object fitted into a character role. Concurrently, Young plays with a literary form of cinéma vérité that acknowledges its own existence through two meta-characters. The poet and his friend serve as dubious guides that explicate the narrative through more mystery, which in many ways work toward confounding and displacing the reader in addresses to the brothers from the city. Reading this book is like being at a murder mystery party where you’re instructed to trust nobody’s story, despite knowing full well you are the killer. Yet every word is believable no matter how twisted or linguistically reticent, fostering anticipation and page-turning suspense.
The awe-striking descriptions of daily life in this southern town balance symbol and image throughout: “the grown-ups in this town are bodies on clotheslines, shirts filled with wind. they snake and soar in alleys.” Or, “in the bathroom, someone has carved lines into walls like ‘a town is the size of language’ and ‘because somewhere a bird clutches the scrap of my name.’”
Dialogue is absent from the majority of this book’s exquisite journey through an American region decimated by war, cruel nostalgia, misapplied faith and economic collapse. However, Young’s efficient use of dialogue hits at the heart of the narrative in which we—speaker, reader and characters—are searching to make sense of “people, places, and ghosts” and “halves of stories.” This searching defines most of the screenplay-in-verse, yet the poet warns us “the road is not your friend” and to “only follow its sound and movement.” In “To the Chapel of Light,” self-reference and reflection rule, creating some hauntingly beautiful moments. (Stephen Danos)
“To the Chapel of Light”
By Joshua Young
Nephew of Mud Luscious Press, 71 pages, $10