Friday, May 20, 2011

Dean Young's New Book Is Out

I googled "American Surrealism" and this is the first image that popped up. Taa-Daa!
(Which plays directly into the hands of those who say American Surrealism, if there is such a thing, is derivative. Alas.)

There’s an interview with Dean Young in The Pedestal Magazine archives from a couple years ago, that I just came across. But it’s interesting to me right now as his new book of poems, Fall Higher (that I didn’t know was coming out, and that I haven’t read, but that I’ve already gone ahead and predicted as the next Pulitzer winner [Hey, it worked with Kay Ryan, so I thought I’d do another “guess without reading” exercise. {I will pat myself on the back as also predicting Rae Armantrout's Pulitzer, but I did that after actually reading it.}]) is just out, and for the fact that in the interview Young touches on Ashbery, Koch, O’Hara, Stevens, Surrealism, American Surrealism, and the divine (if only he’d have mentioned Michael Palmer it would be a complete set!) . . . So here are the most relevant bits (PS, what a boy-heavy list of names above.):

LR: I’ve got a few questions about poetic heroes. You’ve often been called an nth-generation New York School poet. I notice, for instance, that Elegy on Toy Piano is dedicated to Kenneth Koch. Who in that first-generation group do you feel a particular affinity for, and are there any that you don’t?

DY: The Big 3 have been hugely important to me, Ashbery, O’Hara, and Kenneth Koch. Kenneth was friendly towards me. Ashbery has been nice. O’Hara, of course, was dead by the time I picked up his books. But more importantly, theirs were the first poems in which I felt a kind of living presence that I understood. I felt like I could somehow join the party of poetry. That I had people before me. Lord knows, everything about them as people is quite different from me. All three of them were well-educated intellectuals, and I’m not exactly that at all. But there’s something about the poetry.

With Ashbery it’s the associational mode, where he’s able to tap into so many different discourses of poetry in other ages. That’s so extraordinary. And O’Hara, along with all his wildness, there’s the familiarity. I think with all three of them, the familiarity is very important. Ashbery, for instance, is a very companionable writer. With Kenneth, it’s that his poems are so flat-out inventive. One feels in reading his poems that there’s a great joy in them, a great joy in making poetry. It’s fun. Poetry doesn’t necessarily have to be a measurement of suffering.

Those three are very, very important to me. And in the second generation, Ron Padgett and Paul Violi are two poets who constantly amaze me. Padgett’s incredible, screwball, goofy charm has evolved in the past few years into a lucidity and decorum that has both amazing gravity and lightness about it. Paul Violi is just an amazing inventor. One of the great things he does is to colonize various mini-genres and use them for poetry.

LR: How about Surrealism? An article in Wikipedia claims that “if neo-surrealism has a poetic corollary then it is [Dean Young].” How important is surrealism to your sense of yourself as a writer?

DY: Surrealism is part of my heritage. I thought you were going to say, how important is Wikipedia to me? I think in that same entry they claim that Rimbaud and Apollinaire are Surrealists, and they’re not. So that pretty much takes off the table what they’re saying. It speaks from a deep ignorance, I’m afraid.

The quality of invention is at the core of Surrealist poetry, the importance not only aesthetically but also philosophically of the imagination.

Robert Bly is really good about pointing out the difference between French Surrealism and Latin American Surrealism. He points out, and I think he’s right on the mark, that Latin American Surrealism has a whole bunch of emotive force behind it. Whereas with French Surrealists, they’re French after all. Surrealism arrived in the world not as a mode of artistic production, but as a means of transforming consciousness. So the imagination plays a more active role in our being. So I return to their poetry to get brushed up, to get the cobwebs knocked out of me. It always seems fresh and dynamic and exciting and unpredictable.

Association is at the base of what I do, and at the base of what many, many poets do.

LR: Can you comment on American Surrealism, if there is such a thing.

DY: I don’t know if there is such a thing. I don’t think of myself as a Surrealist, but Surrealism as a historical movement and practice and philosophy and concern has had an endless influence on my work.

LR: Also in the latest APR is an essay by Tony Hoagland entitled “The Dean Young Effect” in which he characterizes your relation to Surrealism thusly: “The poet is a channel for the cosmic Eros of the poem….Surrealists are not psychologists, working through neuroses, but devotees—language is their way of wooing the divine.” Is that an accurate description of what you’re trying to do with your poems?

DY: I don’t know if it’s an accurate description of what I’m trying to do with all my poems, but I think it’s not a bad reaction to Surrealism. You look at Tony’s work, Tony’s by no means terribly influenced or interested in Surrealism, but I think what he’s saying in that article is quite smart.

LR: So while it might be true about Surrealism, it’s not necessarily true about your own work?

DY: It sounds a little bit inflated. Access to the divine? Not really. I’m not really sure about that.

LR: I think modesty is always good when approaching the divine. I wanted to ask you about Wallace Stevens? Is he a model for your work, an inspiration?

DY: I hope he is. His work is extraordinarily beautiful and, God, sad! This is an interesting thing about Stevens. A lot of the time he’s just messing around. He’s able to evoke a sort of intellectual gravity but inhabit it with a kind of goofy play. But as his work goes on, there’s a darker vision that comes through in everything and with it the decorations drop away. His poems get barer and darker and more lonely, mourning the fact that there is no God, maybe, no connections that make sense of our life. The beauty of his language and the weirdness of his poems I find very inspiring. I also find it daunting. John Berryman in one of the Dream Songs says about Stevens: “Him hurt Henry’s head.”

Full interview:


At 5/20/2011 8:34 AM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I'll have to check out Dean Young, since I might have read a few scant poems of his in an anthology somewhere, maybe.

The whole question of whether or not American Surrealism exists is interesting. Technically, no. Some association with Breton seems necessary to get the official stamp of approval. Even then, a lot of people rejected the label who associated with Breton (like Carrington and Varo, whom I think are the best visual examples).

In regards to written work, I find the whole of French Surrealism to be fairly uninspiring. Outside of a few poems by Breton, Aime Cesaire's Work, and the theoretical work, most of it isn't nearly as exciting as the work that gave rise to the movement: Reverdy, Roussel, Lautreamont, Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Apollinaire etc...

I find the best examples in writing to be people who rejected the label, or are American. Chirico, Carrington, Ashbery, Koch, O'Hara, Guest, etc.

At 5/20/2011 11:16 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

My favorite from the Surrealists is Max Jacob. Other than that, I prefer other things. The Americans, especially. I’ve never thought of Ashbery as much influenced by Surrealism, though others do, including Auden and Ashbery himself (I think he described his work as containing “soft-surrealism”). I think of him in similar ways as O’Hara, call it a poetics of wandering attention. O’Hara was more journalistic, and Ashbery, more attuned to language itself, as an act. Anyway, in that mode, as well, there are affinities in Stevens and Palmer, and many others. Martha Ronk, who’s a bit younger. But after that it kind of spreads out.

Dean Young gets a lot of overly bad press in some circles, just as he gets a lot of inflated press in others. He’s similar to Kay Ryan, I think, in the way that he’s over-praised by some as an example of their inclusiveness. It would have been better for all concerned, I think, if he hadn’t been so quickly brought into all the right parties, and then the generation of poets imitating him.

I don’t know if the new book would be the best one to start with. According to Young himself, his books all tend to blur together. Strike Anywhere might be a good place to start (he calls that one pivotal, and I'd agree), by the title alone. I mean. I guess. Not that you were asking for a recommendation or anything.

At 5/20/2011 1:41 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This book might indeed win the big prizes. And I hope John Ashbery will be there to collect them as they would certainly be rightfully his.

At 5/20/2011 1:49 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Is Dean Young really that indebted to Ashbery? I understand the shiftiness that might link them, and Young obviously acknowledges Ashbery . . . but there’s never a Dean Young poem that I would mistake for an Ashbery poem. He’s borrowed, yes, but what he comes out with is a lot more autobiographical (or faux autobiographical), more in the vein of O’Hara in a lot of places. Maybe he’s a true hybrid of Ashbery and O’Hara? Or is he closer to Koch, actually? Though Ashbery’s influence is pervasive on our time, Young is just so much more mainstream. If I have to say it that way.

At 5/20/2011 4:11 PM, Blogger Fuzz Against Junk said...

I really hate buying books of poetry, or rather, I hate that they cost money and there are so many I'd like to read. The only library in NYC that carries Strike Anywhere has it for in-library use only. I guess that will give me an excuse to read Map of the Folded World, All-American Poem, and Stars of the Night Commute finally, all in one marathon reading session.

I think Ashbery's wandering forms of attention are very characteristic of some texts like "Soluble Fish" and certainly of Hebdomeros, which he calls the greatest Surrealist novel in existence. I think the biggest link is juxtaposition, which is not unique to Surrealism, but is their signature technique, and it shows up in Ashbery's work in abundance.

I've not read Jacob because I can't find anything besides some Selected Poems in the libraries, though I've meant to.

Anyway, it will be hard to get all this done between now and tomorrow when the world ends, but I will sure try.

At 5/21/2011 10:01 AM, Blogger Whimsy said...

It never occurred to me to think Dean Young's work sounds like Ashbery until I read somebody asserting that. I have written a couple of Ashbery "after/parody" poems with great ease, and I don't think for a minute I could do that with DY, for some reason. Does DY get any bad press? Huh, never heard any, maybe I should broaden my blog reading beyond you and Ron.

At 5/21/2011 10:09 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Well, it depends on the cycle of the planets, but Silliman is very hard on Young. According to SIlliman, Young is, I believe, one of the Quietists at some points, and part of the Faux-garde, or whatever the term is he uses for that, at other times. I see his point, though I'm not nearly so troubled by it as Silliman is (or Kent Johnson is). Dean Young is a more "conservative" view of the sorts of moves Ashbery or O'Hara might make (or Ashbery + O'Hara might look like). That seems legit to me, though it does "tame" the Avant-Garde aspects of Ashbery (etc).

I'm with you on the Ashbery influence on Young. It didn't ever pop out at me like it does for some people (the anon about, for example).

At 5/21/2011 11:53 AM, Anonymous Lynette Fromme said...

The frazzled dragoons wattle-whip
the whole whorlhouse
of albino morphos who slurp
savannahs gerrymandered
by scatterbrained whippersnappers
Each catnaps in my eyrie
of neon smithereens
like a voluted hatchet
of waterfalling wheelchairs
My third deathwish is to be
rubbed out by a lobster
on a sleet-sheeted fire-escape
to the Quark epoch
when potbellied straitjackets
spelunked the brick bra
of a slattern frisbeeing
a swatch of Kansas
into a loblolly to spatter
the Jagger-lipped nostrils
tha laundromat-hatted vampyres
the stairway-stringed violins
suffused with the violence
of the starwhale
flashing my eyelids back
to a rooftop tattooed
by bat-splinters
on the pitrises of Jesusfreaks
caroming off the fog
when isolate gryphons dissolve
their drainpipes in the deathmask
which slips through slots
only faceless coins fit
and which rides a mechanical
stiff as a stiletto
stuck in a lizard
Like it I lie down
with the ocean-floored skyscrapers
a carpet for the scarecrow
sleeprunning to the airport
to catch a horse

At 5/21/2011 11:55 AM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

Gerrymandering will do that.

At 5/22/2011 12:38 PM, Blogger Steven D. Schroeder said...

Logan is also tough on Young.

I thought James Tate was the poet detractors felt Young was too derivative of. I guess they're both too derivative of Ashbery in this new model?

At 5/22/2011 12:44 PM, Blogger John Gallaher said...

I guess so, but that's a pretty wide net of influence. Too wide, I'm thinking.

At 5/25/2011 2:15 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ashbery's been using Tate's paint kit for a few decades--and he's admitted it many times. And--I think his work is better for it. I much prefer the post-1980 Ashbery. It shows his genius for creation--steal from anyone, even those younger than you.--Rob T


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