Finalist for the 2010 National Book Award in Poetry
Ignatz takes the form of a cycle of love poems—in radical variations—based on Ignatz Mouse, the rodent anti-hero and love-object of George Herriman’s classic comic strip Krazy Kat. For decades, Krazy Kat rang the changes on a quirky theme of unrequited love: cat loves mouse; mouse hates cat; mouse hits cat with brick; cat mistakes brick for love; and so on, day after day. The backgrounds of the strip were in constant inexplicable flux: a desiccated specimen of Arizona flora morphs in the next panel into a crescent moon, then into a snowcapped butte, while the characters chatted obliviously on, caught up in their own obsessive round.
Moving through pacy, overflowing sentences, enigmatic aphoristic observations, and pointed imagistic vignettes, Youn’s second collection vividly captures the way the world reorients around an object of desire: the certainty that your lover “will appear in the west, backlit by orange isinglass,” the ability to intuit a lover’s presence from the way “unseen flutes / keep whistling the curving phrases of your body.” Youn skillfully draws on the repeating narrative motifs and haunting landscapes of Krazy Kat as she tests and surpasses the limits of lyric to explore the cyclical elements of romanticized love. Youn speaks to and with her poetic forbears, whether St. John Perse, whose phrase “robed in the loveliest robe of the year” (T.S. Eliot’s translation) recurs in several love songs to Ignatz, or Geoffrey Hill, whose Mercian Hymns these poems recall in their serial structure and their commingling of the contemporary and classical. Ignatz is a poignant foray into the inventive possibilities of obsession and passion.
“George Herriman drew the comic strip Krazy Kat, which was published across America, between 1913 and 1944. It followed the antics of the titular cat, who is madly in love with Ignatz Mouse, who would rather attack Krazy with a brick than return the feeling. The strip serves as the inspiration and jumping off point for this second book by Youn (Barter), though intimate familiarity with the strip is hardly necessary to enjoy these poems. Unrequited desire is the theme. ‘Oh Ignatz won’t you play me/ like a filigree flute?’ asks one of four poems titled ‘Untitled (Krazy’s Song).’ Ignatz becomes an open-ended figure for the inaccessible beloved, a kind of muse that’s always out of reach. In wiry verse, prose poems, sharp, jagged stanzas, and even lines that mimic the movement of a tetherball, Youn traces the many incarnations of desire: ‘the way water is always rushing between a ferry// and its dock in that ever-present gap.’ In the stunning ‘X as a Function of the Distance from Ignatz,’ desire is measured in feet: ‘(he is forty feet/ away) the stiff wind/ palpably stripping// his scent from her hair.’ Not only has Youn created a thrilling book of poems but also opened new avenues for ekphrastic poetry. (Mar.)” — Publishers Weekly
“In Monica Youn’s stunningly imaginative series Ignatz, George Herriman’s comic-strip villainous mouse, Ignatz, is demoused and, with inexhaustible invention, transformed into an object of passion […] Youn dips what would otherwise be black comedy into the honey pot of untiring desire: ‘O pity us // Ignatz O come to us by moonlight / O arch your speckled body over the earth.’ […] Spare, choice, witty, daring, musical, itself never tiring, Youn’s style is more than equal to both the romanticism and the grimness.” — Cal Bedient
“Modernist, secret philosopher, ironic medium, dialectician, inventor of a terse exuberance, hypocrites’ steely antagonist […] Monica Youn is all those things in these astonishing, compact poems, whose spare lines and dense clusters unfold almost illimitably into panels and landscapes and transcontinental journeys. […] No poet of Youn’s generation has made more demands on herself—and none has done more in her art.” — Stephen Burt