As an emotion, “mixed-feelings” catches a bad rap. But having mixed-feelings about a poem is actually a valid, and valuable, emotional response. It means something in the poem worked for you, but, at the same time, something else didn’t. There is a grey area, imprecision, ambiguity even. All spaces in which poetry thrives.
The following poem, written by poet Kevin Young, leaves me with such mixed-feelings. I know the poem has merit, but at the same time, it bothers me. There are lines that are trite, others that are cocky, and some that are incongruous. Nevertheless, the poem also displays bravado, skill and originality. I am not fully behind it, nor in front of it. I am off to one side, spying on it.
Whatever your reaction to the work below may be, it is relevant to note that Kevin Young is a big up-and-comer on the American contemporary poetry scene. I will be sure to share a more immediately affable piece from his collection in the future.
I Am Trying to Break Your HeartI am hopingto hang your head
on my wallin shame—
the slightest taxidermythrills me. Fish
forever leapingon the living-room wall—
paperweights madefrom skulls
of small animals.I want to wear
your smile on my sleeve& break
your heart like a horseor its leg. Weeks of being
bucked off, thenall at once, you’re mine—
Put me down.
I want to call you thine
to tattoo mercyalong my knuckles. I assassindown the avenueI hope
to have you forgottenby noon. To know you
by your kneespalsied by prayer.
Loneliness is a science—
consider the taxidermist’stender hands
trying to keep from losingskin, the bobcat grin
of the living.