Dean Young
(USA, 1955)   
Dean Young

Strongly influenced by the New York School poets and Surrealists such as André Breton, Young’s poetry is full of wild leaps of illogical, extravagant imagery, and mercurial shifts in tone. Reviewing Fall Higher for the LA Times, Elizabeth Hoover noted, “Young writes poetry thoroughly of the moment. It imitates the velocity of the electronic age with jump cuts, vernacular asides, and pop culture references.” Andrew Allport at the Boston Review said, “Dean Young has become the spokesperson for a certain kind of poetic abandon. He embraces this position in his latest collection, Fall Higher.”

That abandon may in part be due to the precarious nature of life itself – something Young knows well. He received a heart transplant in 2011, shortly after Fall Higher was published. The book is filled with poems afflicted with literal matters of the heart: "For me, it's an actual concern because I've been living with this diagnosis for over 10 years. My father died when he was 49 of heart problems, so it's been a sort of shadowy concern for me my whole life," Young said.

Hoover observed that, “poetry here is more Pollock than Renoir; the composition is instinctual and improvisational and beyond ecstatic.” The ecstatic quality of Young’s work is hyper-present in his newest poems, like ‘Belief in Magic’:

How could I not?
Have seen a man walk up to a piano
and both survive.
Have turned the exterminator away.
Seen lipstick on a wine glass not shatter the wine.

Young tips the scales of the world, giving immense weight to everyday objects and suggesting that it’s “magic” that allows wine to remain intact in the presence of lipstick. The poem is void of sarcasm and filled with delight in the sheer magic that one’s existence is, and in the sheer magic of the myriad objects and events that make up a life (and a person):

A single gem has throbbed in my chest my whole life
even though
even though this is my second heart.
Because the first failed,
such was its opportunity.
Was cut out in pieces and incinerated.
I asked.
And so was denied the chance to regard my own heart
in a jar.

Using surrealist techniques such as collage, Young’s poems often blur the boundaries between reality and imagination, creating a poetry that is enormously, almost disruptively, inclusive. In an interview with the journal Jubilat, Young admits that when it comes to poetry, “I want to put everything in.” The seemingly disparate elements of Young’s poetry are frequently unified through wordplay and internal rhyme. Take his poem ‘Son of Fog’:

                       We stand at the edge
of a drop that doesn’t answer back,
fog our only friend although it’s hell
on shrimpboats. There, there, says the fog.
Where, where? You can’t see a thing.

The feeling of disorientation in Young’s poems comes not so much from his use of language, which tends toward the conversational, but from the speed and scope of his associations. Guided by the poem’s familiar tone, the reader follows its various turns only to end up unsure of where exactly the familiar has led. Speaking to the centrality of misunderstanding in his poetry, Young suggests that “to tie meaning too closely to understanding misses the point”.

Upon presenting him with the Academy Award in Literature, the American Academy of Arts and Letters noted, “Dean Young’s poems are as entertaining as a three-ring circus and as imaginative as a canvas by Hieronymus Bosch.” The entertainment is not merely a show, but rather an attempt to make life's difficult questions easier to confront. In ‘Selected Recent and New Errors,’ Young’s stream-of-consciousness writing style allows him to highlight life’s absurdities without posing as an authority on life’s meaning:

Do you think the dictionary ever says to itself
I’ve got these words that mean completely
different things inside myself
and it's tearing me apart?
My errors are even bigger than that.

Through the acuity of his observations, Young’s poems are at the same time humorous and moving; as Charles Simic has said, Young “reminds us that there is nothing more serious than a joke.”

Dean Young was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania, and received his MFA from Indiana University. Recognised as one of the most energetic, influential poets writing today, his collections of poetry include Strike Anywhere (1995), Skid (2002), Elegy on Toy Piano (2005), and Primitive Mentor (2008). He has also written a book on poetics, The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction (2010). Young has taught at the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, the low-residency MFA program at Warren Wilson College, and the University of Texas-Austin, where he holds the William Livingston Chair of Poetry.



Design with X, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 1988
Beloved Infidel, University Press of New England, Hanover, 1992
Strike Anywhere, Center for Literary Publications, Press of Colorado, Niwot, 1995
First Course in Turbulence, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 1999
Skid, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2002
Elegy on Toy Piano, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2005
Embryoyo, McSweeney’s, San Francisco, 2007
Primitive Mentor, University of Pittsburgh Press, Pittsburgh, 2008
Fall Higher, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, 2011
Bender: New & Selected Poems, Copper Canyon Press, Port Townsend, 2012

The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction, Graywolf Press, St. Paul, 2010

Links, Poetry magazine podcast: ‘All This Havoc’, Poetry magazine podcast: ‘Feeling Like a Worm in Tequila?’, Poetry Off the Shelf: ‘Clint Eastwood’s Women, the Poetry Glut, and Other Fun Topics: Listening in to a phone call between poets Tony Hoagland and Dean Young.’, Poetry Off the Shelf: ‘Tough Poem? Call the Poet: Dean Young talks about writing toward the invisible reader.’, Poem of the Day ‘Dear Reader’ by Dean Young, Poem of the Day: ‘Selected Recent and New Errors’ read by Dean Young


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