Divided into 4 parts, The Second Person by C. Dale Young examines first the physical body with its emotions and sensations, then moves into the scientific where death and sciences attempts to heal become a major focus before moving into a 27 poem series of triptychs that merge the two. Finally, the book shifts focus and expands its view to examine the world. Young’s poems comfortably flow between the inner and external world as is common in other current poets, but they also shift between scientific and emotional views of the world: one poem for example, shifts between the idea of the mathematical notation of summation that the symbol represents and a less literal view that moves the purely scientific term into the emotional world of the patient who is saved by the summation of the Doctor’s education.
C. Dale Young’s greatest poems are where he demonstrates his own dual nature as a medical doctor and a poet. While his poems about life and love in the first section of The Second Person are well-written and powerful in their own way, they do not serve to separate C. Dale Young from other current poets who write one similar topics such as Carl Phillips. It is not until the second section of The Second Person that one is able to see the true power of Young, and where his unique experiences and perspective shifts his poetry away from the mass of writers. By this I mean that his first section of poems doesn’t resonate as much has the latter sections and, in turn, his poetry doesn’t shift from being “good” to being “memorable” until he begins focusing on his unique perspective.
One of the most powerful lessons for myself in this book is the power of finding one’s own voice and one’s own topics. What makes a poet memorable for me is not necessarily just the skill in putting words on a page, but what separates the poet from his (or her) contemporaries; for example, I find both Byron and Wordsworth excellent poets, but I prefer Byron because of his unique perspective on the world and the uniqueness of his poems about the mind in contrast to Wordsworth’s focus on nature like many of his contemporaries. It’s very hard to imagine Carl Phillips writing a poem about mathematical notation but not one about lying in a lover’s arms. While there is nothing wrong with writing about similar topics to other poets – after thousands of years, everything has been written about at least once – bringing a fresh and unique perspective to poetry is what makes a poet the most memorable for me.
The subject of science with poetry is especially interesting to me due to my dual Physics and English background; I’ve found that the most useful lessons I’ve had is learning to balance separate elements for science and humanities. As I see how Szymborska balances wit with seriousness, Phillips with experience and body, or Young with science and art, I’ve come to see the importance of balancing a poem’s content on the cusp of ideas rather than forcing one way of thinking through the poem. The most powerful poetry does not have to be all knowing, and it is possible to acknowledge that one does not have all the answers.