Sunday, June 28, 2009

Tony Hoagland on Dean Young

Dean Young is the contemporary avatar of avant-garde populism in American poetry. His poems are jazzy, imagistic, ironic, romantic, humorous, surrealist-inflected, and accessible. They gratify the expectations of both art and of entertainment. Without dumbing-down for his audience, his allegiances to pop culture, his anti-intellectual asides, and his slangy Americanski patter serve to hold his poems in the gravity field of the general reader. Though influences are certainly visible in Young's work (New York School poets, French Surrealism, John Ashbery, etc.), he has refined and honed a poetic mode and texture distinctly his own. Young's own aesthetic influence among young poets is widespread, and––though he is not the only model for the style de jour––his work brings into focus certain values and habits of our poetry era––speed, dissemblement, parody, romantic irony. His own work also highlights, by contrast, some of the shortcomings of his emulators.

-Tony Hoagland, "The Dean Young Effect," in The American Poetry Review (July/August, 2009). p. 29.

I like Dean Young's work a great deal. At his best, he's a wonderful poet. I recall, in particular, a poem about Walt Whitman's brain that appeared some years ago in The Threepenny Review that I carried around with me for months, I liked it so well. But there are times when he strains so for effect and affect that I find his work falling flat.

Perhaps what he is attempting is sufficiently difficult that we should not be too critical when he's unable to keep all the juggling pins in the air at one time.

Tony Hoagland (top photo)

Dean Young (bottom photo)


Blogger Leslie said...

I dunno, Greg. I think if he published fewer of his not-quite-there thought-boxes I'd think better of him. He is gifted and has written some amazing, lasting poems but I wonder if he knows/understands which ones those are and how much they are diluted by the so-much-less-successful stuff he also produces.

11:37 AM  
Blogger Radish King said...

We all have to write crap sometimes to get to the next poem.

12:23 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Write, yes. Absolutely. But publish?

12:55 PM  
Blogger Radish King said...

In my experience, it's up to the editor to decide what gets published or not, no matter how well recognized your name.

1:48 PM  
Blogger Leslie said...

Ahh, RK, it is indeed the editor who decides. And he is not always being well served by his editors, I guess.

But also he is producing a LOT. Though it was four years between his first and second book, in the last four years he has released three, with one pending. So we can hope our editors have the courage and conviction and clear-sightedness to be selective, to both know and see our best work, or we can try to edit ourselves.

The problem with leaving it up to the editor is that Dean Young sells a lot of books and editors work for the people who profit from those books and it is therefore not in their best interest at least short term to limit the number of books he puts out.

2:54 PM  
Blogger Virgin In The Volcano said...

I'm with Leslie here. It's because Young is so brilliant at times that I think he should be more accountable for his poems that tank. Design With X is one of my favorite books but I find things like Elegy For A Toy Piano absolutely unreadable. Young is fucking fantastic when he's on so the crap he prints is inexcusable.

And really, I don't think he's attempting such a high risk game. Basically, he pulls off heartbreaking moments of insight in the midst of everyday obstacles and considerable snark. He can do it well, but I'd never dream of calling him avant-garde.

5:01 PM  
Blogger marcia said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

7:37 PM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

I was also a bit surprised by the "avant garde" label.

7:39 PM  
Blogger knott said...

I've never read any of Dean Young's poems all the way through because I start to think why am I reading this second-rate imitation of James Tate when I could be reading the real thing or else writing my own third-rate imitations of James Tate——

ergo not having completely read any of his poems, I have no opinion of them . . .

11:05 AM  
Blogger greg rappleye said...

Yes, James Tate is an interesting comparison-poet to Dean Young. In my estimation, Tate's work has become stronger and more consistent in the past 5-8 years. Perhaps we can look for something similar from Dean Young.

11:17 AM  
Blogger Christina said...

They both have awesome hair.

8:00 PM  

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