David Wojahn: It's a great pleasure to introduce Dean Young to you tonight.
For over twenty years now, I've known him and read his work. It's been a thrill to see the Dean Young I first met—who was this earnest young poet enrolled in nursing school wrote these very strange and original poems on a manual typewriter that seemed ancient even then—become the Dean Young of today. And he still writes his poems on a manual typewriter, he didn't finish nursing school, and those strange and original poems have turned into one of the most unique and startling and consoling bodies of work you can find in American poetry today. You encounter in his six volumes of poetry work that really counts, work that you can honestly say helps to bring the language forward. His poetry accomplishes this goal in part because it is slyly subversive, it sets itself against all of the received pieties of the period style, often whimsically, but sometimes with a ferocity that tells you this writer is tired of the aridness, of the timidity, and the hand-wringing self-importance which our poetry has so often become.

He doesn't do this with the hectoring voice of a crank—well, mostly doesn't—but through a persona who is by turns quizzical, he's pissed off, he's vulnerable, he's raconteuring, he's unflappable, and he's tender. His aesthetic derives from the surrealist, and he offers his surrealism straight with no chaser, not as a wishy-washy indulgence in dream states and vaguely Jungian symbols, but as the sensibility which best serves to describe the way things are in these times—the randomness, the brokenness, the channel selector with a life of its own, the absurdity that can at one moment can be bracing and at another moment tragic.
This is all to say that I love his poetry, and I don't think more than a week or two has gone by in these last twenty years when I haven't looked at his poetry and studied it and cared for it. He's received many honors and awards for his work, including fellowships from the NEA and the Guggenheim foundation, and his poems have appeared in hundreds of the best journals, and his sixth and most recent collection, Elegy for Toy Piano, has just been issued last month by the University of Pittsburgh Press. He's taught at a number of universities and colleges, and he's presently on the faculty of the esteemed University of Iowa Writer's Workshop and the low-residency MFA Program of Warren Wilson College.

I'm just really happy to introduce you tonight to Dean Young.

Dean Young: Well, that was the high point for me. Thank you, David.

As David mentioned, I teach in two MFA programs, and who I am in those MFA programs is really, really different. In one, I'm the old fogey. I'm always talking about Keats and Hopkins and the necessity of locating poetry in real lived experience, and the fact that I think maybe words do have reference, and it's not all that bad of a thing. And in the other one, I'm the champion of the avant-garde, which is a lot of fun because you just get to throw bombs all the time. So in many ways, this poem comes out of that—a kind of anxiety about that—about wondering where I belong, because in both places who I am is that I don't belong there. But I think for young writers that's one of the biggest challenges, to figure out where you belong. You have to create you own connection. You have to create your own readership, and you have to figure out who they are and what they think about poetry. So it can seem really horrible, but it's also a source of liberation, so basically I think you don't have to worry about it. So anyway, this poem's called "Whose Side You on Anyway?"

["Whose Side You on Anyway?" by Dean Young]

This is a poem about being incredibly self-involved. It's called "Self Search."

["Self Search," by Dean Young]

This is called "Mannerist."

["Mannerist," by Dean Young]

Any questions so far? David, what do we have for our studio audience tonight?

["While Darkness Picks its Flowers in the Mind," by Dean Young]

This is called "Ten Inspirations." It's entirely possible that this poem is really, really dull. And it comes with numbers, and I'm not going to read the numbers because I hate it in poetry readings when people read the numbers. It's like, especially when they don't tell you how many sections there are. The scariest word you could hear at a poetry reading is 'four,' because at that moment, you know, you're in infinity then, because three, you're all thinking it's only got three sections, that's it. Three is the number. Four means, like, it's never going to end. But you can count to yourself to ten, and most of you are well-equipped to do that.

["Ten Inspirations," by Dean Young]

["Clam Ode," by Dean Young]

Some of the time I'm lucky enough to live in the Bay area, and one of the things I like about it is the fog. The fog kind of gets me off the hook, because it's like being trapped inside a Wallace Stevens poem, particularly the lines, "It's morning all afternoon." So, it's like, even at 3:00, it feels like you still have a chance. The fog doesn't always shout to you, "Wake up! Wake up!"

This is called "Son of Fog."

["Son of Fog," by Dean Young]

This is called "Paradise Poem."

["Paradise Poem," by Dean Young]

["Rabbit, I Love You," by Dean Young]

["Tears," by Dean Young]

["So the Grasses Grow," by Dean Young]

This is the last poem I'll read tonight. It's an elegy for the great poet, and, I'm very proud to say, my friend, Kenneth Koch. I felt a great sort of, well, obligation to write an elegy for Kenneth when he died, and yet my aesthetic is based upon the obliteration and the disavowal of obligation, so you can see it kind of put me in a pickle. So what I did was, I just tried to go very small. It's called "Elegy on Toy Piano."

["Elegy on Toy Piano," by Dean Young]

Thank you.