Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Reflecting Dean Young's poetry

Originally printed Aug. 30, 2011.

"Of course I have written a poem by Dean Young," Dean Young supposedly writes in the poem, "A Poem by Dean Young," featured in his 2002 collection, "Skid."

"More than once I have written a poem by Dean Young," the poet continues. "More than once I have left them by your gate. / More than once I have stuffed the eucalyptus leaves / in your mouth. More than once I have lived, / more than once I have died because of it."

The only problem is that the poem really wasn't by Dean Young. According to the endnotes, the poem was by Mary Ruefle, and a companion poem ("A Poem by Mary Ruefle" written by Dean Young) can be found amid Ruefle's works.

It's entirely possible, in fact, that you too -- Press-Citizen reader -- may have written a poem by Dean Young.

If so, you'll know because you'll start hearing "time's winged whatchamacallit" while you vacuum.

You'll know because you'll bemoan how you "don't / have that house anymore across from the graveyard / and its black angel."

You'll know because you'll try to roll the everyday image of a dog tied to a parking meter together with the theoretical "curve in the continuum when space becomes time and time becomes a big / bowl of grub" -- and then you'll try to encapsulate the experience within the single word, "Zypxtflo."

You'll know because your poems will be wildly misunderstood: "At the Center / for Useless Experimentation, my poem / about sick swans went over big although / no one caught that it was really about / Keats's tuberculosis."

You'll know because John Keats will keep popping up.

You'll know because you'll start noticing "the word roses lurking inside neurosis" and start recognizing that "every word is a euphemism."

You'll know because you'll start wondering whether "poetry is all just artifice / devices, hoax, blood only there / to rhyme with mud."

But you really won't know for sure unless a host of other poets -- including James Galvin, Mark Levine, Cal Bedient, Robyn Schiff, Christopher Merrill and Jan Weissmiller -- start reading your poems aloud at 7 p.m. Wednesday in Prairie Lights as part of a benefit for the real, flesh-and-blood Dean Young.

The Dean Young who has made a career expressing his social outrage through surrealistic comic excess.

The Dean Young who taught in the Iowa Writers' Workshop and whom fellow poet Tony Hoagland calls "a critical nucleotide in the DNA of American poetry."

The Dean Young who was born with a heart defect, who had a heart transplant operation earlier this year and who, unfortunately, continues to face a daunting $50,000 in annual out-of-pocket medical bills that aren't covered by his insurance.

Dora Malech, a workshop graduate who identifies Dean Young as her mentor and friend, said she got the idea for the event after participating in a similar benefit reading for Young at the University of California, Berkeley. She also said she doubts whether anyone else could write a poem by Dean Young.

"Perhaps there are a lot of reflections of Dean out there," Malech said, "but the heart of Dean's voice is so singular, it would be impossible to really imitate. Anytime time I see a little bit of Dean in my poetry, I'm nothing but happy."

Various "reflections" of Dean Young will be available for sale, auction and drawing Wednesday. Joseph Patrick, a University of Iowa professor emeritus of Art and Art History, has donated drawings of Young. Shari DeGraw of Empyrean Press has printed a letter-press broadside of an unpublished, post-operative poem by Young. And the UI Center for the Book will be offering copies of "Original Monkey," a chapbook that includes Young's poetry and some of his original artwork.

The benefit reading will be streamed live on the Writing University site at And all the money raised will be donated to Young's care through the National Foundation for Transplants,

But don't expect a lot of warning for when Wednesday's reading -- or the reception afterward -- closes down.

As Dean Young himself has observed, "Zypxtflo. Zypxtflo. / The truest endings are abrupt."

Opinion editor Jeff Charis-Carlson can be contacted at .

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