So, I begin to keep my New Year’s resolution to read one book a week.

When I ordered a copy of an edition of Forklift, Ohio, (‘A Journal of Poetry, Cooking, & Light Industrial Safety’) a hand assembled poetry and art mag, they also sent me 31 Poems, a chapbook by Dean Young.

I hadn’t heard of him before, but this is good introduction certainly, especially since it seems that most of the poems were previously published in earlier of Young’s collections. Which goes to something tragic in the publication of books for smaller authors and virtually every poet. Your book has one print run. That’s it. It never appears again. We think everything is out there, available on Amazon. But it’s not.

That book of poems published by the university press in the early nineties? It can fall off the map entirely.

Something like this is an admirable way to keep some of the poems (31 of them, to be exact) alive.

As for the poems themselves, I’d rate them as… improving?

I wonder if these aren’t in chronological order, because, for me, the poems improved considerably. I read someone compare him and his style to the New York School poets. He does have poems (the better ones) that definitely remind me of O’Hara’s conversational, urban folksiness. Others bring to mind Ashberry, but those… Ashberry is such a large figure in American poetry over the last fifty years that resembling him will always be to the detriment of the inevitably inadequate resembler.

Once he’s hits his stride, about one third of the way through, it gets good. He drops some of the angry f-bombs for more wry wit colored with some not maudlin melancholy.

ON BEING ASKED BY A STUDENT IF HE SHOULD ASK OUT SOME GIRL is a great one. It’s the internal monologue of a teacher (I envision a junior high teacher) describing scattered advice and also veering off into his own regrets and disappointments. It’s a melancholy piece, bringing to mind the helpless feelings of a pre-adolescent in love and not knowing what to do or how to handle, as well the disappointments of maturity. I wish there were some passage I could quote, but because it’s all about a distracted, stuttering flow, and enjambment, a line or even a couple of lines wouldn’t capture what’s there.

I will quote from the last line of my favorite poem contained therein, and of the one least like the others. It’s New York School filtered through Richard Howard’s sad historicism (though less annoying; I read Howard’s Inner Voices and immediately wondered what possessed me to put my brain through that kind of turgidly pointless experience). From I SEE A LILY ON THY BROW:

but above you, the assistant holding you down,
trying to fix you with sad, electric eyes
is John Keats.

It’s the ‘story’ of a young worker in London whose minor injury gets infected and finds himself being operated on a teaching hospital, with students looking down on him. A young worker who will die, despite the amputation. The Keats brings the whole thing back to the matter of poetry and the ability or inability of poetry to bring meaning, to bring succor, to turn suffering into something that can be shared to alleviate the suffering of others – almost like the poor young worker, by virtue of his (eventually) fatal operation being witnessed by the great Keats, is an organ donor who is donating beauty.

I should add that Dean Young has a new, traditional, i.e., hardcover, collection out: Bender: New and Selected Poems.

One thought on “31 Poems: 1998-2008 (New Year’s Resolution, Book Two)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.