"A Background" from Meat and Milk by Fury Young
"A Background" from Meat & Milk by Fury Young
Buy $19.95 US
Excerpted form the book Meat & Milk by Fury Young
Meat & Milk is my first book of poetry, written over the past five years and parsed out from over three hundred poems and many notebooks. If you told me five years ago that I’d have a book of poetry out now, or so many poems, it would come as a surprise. I grew up wanting to be a film director. Most of my writing background came from screenplays and a full-length film is what I’d expect to hear as the baby of a half decade worth of labor.
Take it back ten years to the only formal poetry experience I can remember—a high school English class in which the final assignment was to put together a collection of your poems from the semester. Those pieces are long gone, but on the cover, I remember a man running from a crop duster, a la Cary Grant in that old technicolor Hitchcock movie North by Northwest. I drew the running man in black and yellow. I wrote every poem in under five minutes and got an A plus from a teacher who I thought hated me. I was a vulgar teenager, but I suppose something rang true to her in my words.
The real birth for me as a poet came at a time when I had no friends, was desperately looking for work, and living in a new place. Sounds typical that the metamorphosis would come from loneliness, and it is, but there were also social events going on around me I believe propelled my mind into places that only poetry could make sense of.
As a tribute, Meat & Milk honors the social justice movement Occupy Wall Street, which sprang up in New York City, my hometown, a few weeks after I had moved from the Big Apple to Los Angeles, California.
I was twenty-two and working hard as a film set carpenter and art director in New York. But it was safe, familiar, and I wanted new experiences; to be uncomfortable, to learn, to run away from home. Having gone straight from high school to the workplace, I enrolled at the local community college when I got to LA. On a whim, I signed up for a class called “20th Century Genocide.”
I would take classes part-time, hoping to be inspired for a script, but I also had to find work. The country was still feeling the reverb of the 2008 market crash and landing a steady gig proved impossible. I looked everywhere—from Hooters to Chateau Marmont to Pollo Loco—and nowhere was looking for a busboy, a dishwasher, a cashier. My film contacts were all in New York, and the references I’d gotten in LA were unresponsive Hollywood flakes. To make matters worse, I had totaled my car in Tucumcari, New Mexico, in a near-death accident on the road trip over from New York. Remember the Little Feat song, “I’ve been from Tucson to Tucumcari...”?
When Occupy began, I had absolutely no interest in activism. I was a misanthropic and solipsistic teenager who went to a social justice-leaning high school, and I thought the students with their “Impeach Bush” and “End the War” pins were corny. It wasn’t that I was a neoconservative rebel, I was just in my own world of Nicolas Roeg, Dario Argento, and Roman Polanski films, with Springsteen, T.Rex, and Marvin Gaye as the soundtrack.
But life was different now. I was out in the world struggling, and my antenna was in a more open zone. Interesting what vulnerability will do to a person.
I stopped by downtown LA’s City Hall, where the Occupiers had set up shop. There were hundreds of tents, protest signs, people of many walks, and non-stop interaction around me. I couldn’t help being curious and provoked, but that jaded Lower East Side kid who snorted shit coke in dive bars at sixteen wasn’t sold. There was still that part of me that lived in a movie. Yet, my receptors were working.
The “20th Century Genocide” class had pulled me in and hit me over the head with an anvil. My teacher was a six foot five army veteran, a black man with long dreads who grew up on a Native American reservation. He’d left the army and become a scholar in history and world religion, while maintaining a staunch atheism. He taught the class like a general with his troops – no bathroom breaks, no latenesses, no bull – but you knew it was because he cared about his students and his subject. He was intimidating, but what we were studying was more so. I was fixed on history, suddenly and without warning. Trips to the Los Angeles Public Library saw me borrowing books by the dozen, and my lonely nights became reading nights, where I pondered deep the tragedies and triumphs of history. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to make a movie of all this, and the more I read, the more the idea of turning this history into a film seemed silly. I was reading about the Cambodian genocide, the Holocaust, Rwanda – how could I ever depict that? Why would I? And yet the more I read, the more interested I became in what was going on in the here and now. The more I read, the more I related world history to the present day, and to the country I was raised in.
That’s when Occupy became something I wanted to be a part of. I eased my way in with a “General Assembly” meeting, and sat there taking it in, silent, with a Charlie Chaplin-patch jean jacket on my back. On the courthouse steps beside me was a beautiful young woman, but I was too enthralled and shy to say a word to her.
What the occupiers spoke of seemed part-rant, part-truth, part-pain and trauma, but all real. It was a society I had never experienced. Strangers spoke to each other, not with inhibition but with passion and interest. Everything went. People were encouraged to share, which was a stark contrast to the New York City I grew up in, where you wore headphones in public and the typical person did not engage with the interesting stranger on the subway.
Though it took me several more General Assemblies to begin identifying myself as an activist, I slowly started to form these deep questions and opinions about the world around me, as seen through this new lens. Soon I became so obsessed with history and activism that the idea of being behind the camera as a filmmaker didn’t feel right any more. A maelstrom of indignant and empathetic feelings hit me, and I dove. I had to live life, to be active in fixing the world’s problems: climate change, economic inequality, starving people.
Idealistic? Most definitely, but at least my mind had cracked open. Books I read like Naomi Klein’s The Shock Doctrine and Loung Ung’s First They Killed My Father kept me up all night. I’d make collages with Mussolini and the pope and then get frustrated and smash them against the wall of my shabby Westlake apartment. I still didn’t have any friends.
Around this time, I wrote poetry. There was no forethought to it. I carried around these heavy questions and thoughts, and when I wrote them down, the poem form came out. One of the first I ever wrote was “By The Dumpster,” feeling friendless and in awe of the world. I was sitting next to a dumpster on the Los Angeles City College campus, watching the students and staff pass by. All I had to write with was a thick black marker. I suppose some “sweet realness” came over me, as Spoon might say, and a few minutes later I had a poem. I liked how it felt.
Writing started as an impulse, and it became a means of staying sane; of dealing with depression, dealing with the world’s hardest questions, and having a voice about that world. It’s not that studying history and becoming involved in activism made me a poet, but it triggered something that changed the course of my life forever, and in that change a poet was born.
Five years later, here I am surprised that this book is being published. It feels real and it doesn’t. I call myself a poet because I am one, not because I’ve studied poetry or even read too much of it. Sometimes that’s the hardest thing – to call yourself something that comes naturally without validation from your peers. In that way this book feels like a gamble, for who knows what the reaction will be? But that’s also the fun part. And somewhere there’s that fuck-all teenager who says, “Fuck it, these poems are good.”
The past five years have seen a lot of change in my life, but one of the constants throughout has been writing. I eventually moved back to New York and my activist pursuits led me to producing the ongoing album project Die Jim Crow, a concept album about racism in the U.S. prison system, which several pieces in here are inspired by. There were friends who passed on, lovers met and gone, prisons visited, chances taken, chances not, strangers spoken to, and subways rode.
Meat & Milk is loosely chronological, and in some ways not at all. Many of the early pieces are just that, and as the book continues, so do certain through-lines. Characters are introduced who you’ll meet again, and the journey of life goes on.
Thanks for reading these poems and riding shotgun on this journey. I’ll try not to total the car.
Meat & Milk
About the Book Meat & Milk
Meat & Milk is the debut poetry book of Fury Young, a born and bred Lower East Side NYC poet. The poems, along with the original notebook pages they written on jump off each page of this collection with urgency and lust. Fury writes of his world face value style, with surprise surrealist and abstract turns. Subway cars, depression incarcerated lifers, city lovers, sex, rock n’ roll all the time, crackheads, demons, and food is what you’ll find in here. Walk inside the mind of a young poet coming of age in a jaded city, an “incarcerated rabbi with so many questions,” a “porn star without a face,” an “amateur philosopher.” Meat & Milk is a poetry book very much of this age. Whether you are living in a concrete city or doing life in a concrete tomb, you will find truth in Fury’s words in Meat & Milk.
“Poets don’t usually write poetry. They become poetry. They inhale and exhale metaphors and alliterations like trees give us air. Fury Young is such a poet. His poems are the blueprint of his mind and his soul. His heart provides the passion. For poetry lovers especially this collection of work is an exciting odyssey through this time and space.” – Abiodun Oyewole of The Last Poets, author of Branches of the Tree of Life: The Collected Poems of Abiodun Oyewole 1969-2013
“Fury Young embodies the righteous anger and energy of the Lower East Side, Bushwick, and other artist’s enclaves. He plunges directly into the pain and grittiness of life, like a brutal Chinatown massage. In a time of fake digital worlds, Fury is a scream for the Real, a ghetto visionary; an authentic downtown voice which channels the rage of the incarcerated, survival on the streets, and raw dog sexuality. Meat & Milk accomplishes the task of occupying your mind, heart and balls!” – Master Lee, legendary NYC street performer, author of How To Be An Artist and Not Lose Your Mind
Great reviews for Fury Young’s Meat & Milk - “Eloquent and real. A raw, precise, and nuanced portrait of New York City life.” — learn more and read more reviews.