Dean Young Essay - Critical Essays


Dean Young’s poetry is noted for its ability to incorporate humor with somber moments, high culture with low, and both Romantic and postmodern sensibilities. Young’s poems create a collage of seemingly unrelated images, utterances, and moments by combining, through the use of rapid juxtapositions, the strategies of the Surrealists as well as the standup comedian. In a 2004 Prairie Schooner review of Skid, Hadara Bar-Nadav suggests that due to Young’s shifting poetic strategies, the mixing of literary and popular allusions, and strange lists, it is difficult for the reader to know if Young “is simply observing, critiquing, or making fun of his subjects.” Frequently, the answer is all of the above. Young’s poetry requires that readers learn the various strategies of its specific, often personal, ordering system. Young’s poems work to bring form and order to the subconscious and to illuminate both the expansiveness of people’s physical and imaginative world and the role of various relationships in those worlds.

The specific subjects in his work may be politics, literature, popular music, and personal tragedy, sometimes in the same poem. However, recurrent themes in Young’s body of work center on the abilities of language and experience to misdirect and confuse, as well as the abilities of the reader to bridge the gaps between his abrupt transitions. Young is often held up as a central figure in contemporary Surrealism, as well as a member of the second generation New York School of poetry.

Beloved Infidel

The poems in Young’s second book, Beloved Infidel, use a variety of cultural icons—Rastafarian musician Bob Marley, modern artists Mark Rothko and William de Kooning—combined with personal memories. In “The Business of Love Is Cruelty,” which is ostensibly about a child telling his mother that he hates her, the poem transitions into a social critique and empathetic understanding of Dr. Frankenstein:

And Herr Doktor,what does he want among the burning villagesof his proven theories? Well, he wantsto be a student again

The themes of the poems in Beloved Infidel focus on relationships, faith, and alienation, as suggested by the collection’s title. The poems in this collection mark evidence of Young’s developing style of humor. They derive dramatic tension from his ability to make abrupt shifts in subject matter and strategy, while returning to central themes of alienation, family, and an exploration of the human condition. These surreal examinations of the psyche, through the splicing of culture and personal experience, work to create a common ground between the poet and the reader, while allowing Young to maintain his authorial distance. As a result, the reader is left with a distorted but compassionate reflection of the world.

In the concluding...

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