Writers’ Workshop faculty member Dean Young will be reading at Prairie Lights this Tuesday, April 5, at 8 p.m.. He is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Elegy on Toy Piano (Pittsburg 2005) and Skid (Pittsburg 2002).
A sample of his work can be found at the following links:
Despite his computer’s best efforts to sabotage this interview, Young kindly responded to all of the questions I sent him. The questions were solicited from students, admirers, clerics, groupies, band mates, motorcyclists and millionaires. Blame them.
EG: What would you do if you only had 24 hours before the earth’s magnetic poles switched?
DY: That's gonna really mess up out TVs isn't it?
EG: What role do tradition and poetic tropes play in your poems? For example, one might think of the "Lives of…" poems as in the elegiac vein (not to mention a great deal of the new book, whose title might have something to do with this question).
DY: Traditional and poetic tropes are the very things that help us recognize poetry as poetry. I'm not interested in trying to destroy everything that makes a poem a poem as too many writers seem to be trying to do. Whether one approaches the conventions frontally, as in writing an ode, or more covertly, perhaps through covert sound systems or an autobiographical trace, those conventions are there to be reinvigorated, the challenge then is not inhabiting conventions but in not being conventional.
EG: Your work bears undeniable traces of the avant-garde, and yet … [complete as you wish]?
DY: The avant-garde has always been split between a party you want to be invited to and a party that if you're not a member, you're damned as counter- revolutionary. Currently the avant-garde is owned by the experimental, post l=a=n=gooey poets who fetishize novelty to the sacrifice of true amazement, sentimentalize the fragment with assumptions of emotionality and refuse any notion of subject. Wake me when it's over.
EG: Teaching in the Workshop, you must have a pretty good "beat" on the direction of younger American poetry. What do you feel are the biggest challenges facing young American poets?
DY: The challenges to young poets now are the same as the challenges have always been to poets. To write with energy, to stay true to those primary, urgent drives that first made us write poems, to get better, to not be utterly stuck in the sap of our own time.
EG: If you could be any cartoon character, who would it be? Why?
DY: I resent the notion that I am not already a cartoon character. Wait, that didn't come out right.
EG: Do you write in the mornings or the evenings? With or without music? Longhand or directly to the typewriter? Vodka or gin?
DY: All the above except gin, gin makes you mean and a very poor typist.
EG: I am interested in Dean Young, Inc. Who designs and promotes the Dean Young brand? Where are its headquarters, manufacturing facilities, and where can I get free promotional samples of Dean Young? And most importantly, is there really such a thing as Dean Young, or is it just a marketing device?
DY: As you know, as the author of Blondie, I have many subsidiary concerns. For further information regarding these matters, I encourage you to contact Vatican City.
EG: Do you ever resent the labels associated with your work (i.e. humor poet, American surrealist, New York School)? They’re all traditions you clearly work with, but then again, do you worry about them limiting the way your work is read?
DY: I'm sick of all of them because most of the time no one knows what they mean. I don't really care about them limiting the way my work is read though because I hardly care at all how my work is read.
EG: What is your idea of "beauty," either as an aesthetic guideline for writing or as a principle for life in general?
DY: Beauty is the manifestation of form. Form is the manifestation of fatality. I guess you can see where this is going.
EG: Given the choice of super powers, which would you chose: flight or invisibility?
DY: Well, with invisibility I could walk into the girls' locker room alright but flight I think would have far more daily applications. Yet one can imagine being made very exhausted by flying but never so from being invisible. This is a TOUGH question!
EG: What’s you favorite thing to cook? Why?
DY: I like to cook things that take days, many small processes. Thanksgiving dinner (always brine the bird), fish stew (I can't spell the other names for it) starting with salmon heads, lasagna, risotto, missionary.
EG: What’s the longest you’ve gone without writing? How did you feel?
DY: Are you trying to depress me?
EG: How do you think using the third person in your poems changes the way you think when writing them? When you write, do you think of Dean as yourself, or as someone entirely different?
DY: Considering that the person in my poems is always a shifting center of descriptive gravity, the pronouns are rather unimportant. A switch in pronouns may allow a quick exit and scene change which can always help the play along.
EG: If you were forced to write a novel, what would it be about?
DY: It would have to be about what could possibly force me to write a novel, perhaps an even more extreme situation than what forces me to read a novel.
EG: One of the striking characteristics of your work, especially noticeable in Strike Anywhere, is the co-presence of an American confessional mode and a European surrealist aesthetic. That is, the poems are informed by a locatable "person" or "life" as much as by wild associative leaps and humor. In what way do you consider these two projects working together? Are they at odds with each other, or flip-sides of the same coin? Do you have to do a lot of coaxing to get them to cooperate?
DY: For me, what is of primary importance in a poem is the human dilemma. That pang. For emotion to resonant it needs a subject to resonant in, a kind of chamber. The nature of that subject is always shifting, decentered yes, but not nonexistent, more constantly re-centering as our consciousness does whenever we move through our day, meet the various gazes. Even rabbits have selves. I suppose that's a surrealist idea.
EG: How do you make ceviche?
DY: Soak white fish in lime juice. Drain when opaque, toss with a little olive oil, olives, tomatoes, capers, vodka, come on help my out here.
EG: Thomas Hobbes’s "Leviathan": philosophical treatise, or long suicidenote from a reallyboring guy?