Ann Arbor Weather:
Wednesday October 23, 2019
Follow us: facebook twitter RSS feed

Poet Dean Young

Moving through irony

by Keith Taylor

From the September, 2009 issue

In a recent interview, Dean Young said something to the effect that the only way to get past irony is to go through it. This quip certainly highlights Young's ironic sense and the emotional distance he often creates by his use of contemporary American slang, the pleasure he takes in the artifacts of popular culture, and his exuberant unwillingness to stick to any particular subject. But the comment also suggests that he might want to get past irony to a quieter place, even though he may distrust that place.

#PAGEBREAK#

Young, who reads at the U-M on Thursday, September 17, is one of a handful of poets now in middle age who have exercised a significant influence on poets younger than they. The ironic distance that paints the surface of many of Young's poems and the wild jumps between images or incidents--jumps that often happen in the middle of lines or sentences--are the elements that have become most recognizable as a kind of "Dean Young presence" in the landscape of American poetry.

But I am much more interested in the plaintive note that often plays below the surface of the poems. For instance, here's the beginning of "Lives of the Mortals," a poem from his collection Elegy on Toy Piano, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize a couple of years ago:

#PAGEBREAK#

Sad humans. You start out grasping

at something you can't see

and stay that way. It doesn't matter

if you're made of cardboard and glitter

or celestial exhale, you've been out in the rain

too long. You try to protect your sister

and she shacks up with Queequeg. You try

to protect your son and he takes up hang-

gliding but he's not butterfly,

he plummets, he does not hover.

#PAGEBREAK#

Young's pleasure in putting a reference to Moby Dick right next to an image of hang gliding is flashy and memorable, but it doesn't hide the sense of sadness beneath these lines, the unironic, tragic notion that we can't really influence the facts of our own lives.

In "Evening Primrose,"

...continued below...


an earlier poem in the same collection, Young writes quite seriously about the nature of Beauty (using the nineteenth-century-style capital letter), while disguising his seriousness by jumping through examples from our cultural moment in a manner that might confuse readers not used to this technique. Still, in the middle of the poem, he gets to this place:

#PAGEBREAK#

Can Beauty come back when it hath gone?

Yep. After adolescence. Look at this tree

that was beautiful when its blossoms

twittered in the leftward breeze but

then went through a bark-scab, leaf-

splotched phase but now is beautiful again

albeit kinda spooky.

#PAGEBREAK#

There is the joking reference to the old use of our language, contrasted with the colloquial "Yep" and "kinda." And that could give a feel that the whole thing is a joke. But I don't think it is.     (end of article)

[Originally published in September, 2009.]

 

 
Bookmark and Share
Print Comment E-mail

You might also like:

Restaurants with prices Under $10
A clickable zoomable map
Dexter Loses Its Pharmacy
A beloved business closes.
Sabine Bickford
The Find Opens on Chelsea's Middle St.
From eyeglasses to resale
Shelley Daily
Parking
Networking & Career Development
Photo: Send YCS Students to DC
Kerrytown's Loomi Cafe
Quick Bite
M.B. Lewis
Crime Map
A clickable, zoomable map
Menstrual Movement
A rally takes aim at "poverty period."
Eve Silberman
Restoring a Community Icon
How Chelsea's post office got a new lease on life.
Kathy J. Clark
One of the finest university art museums in the country, UMMA holds collections representing 150 yea
Vicki's Wash and Wear Haircuts