Young, David (Pollock)

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YOUNG, David (Pollock)

Nationality: American. Born: Davenport, Iowa, 14 December 1936. Education: Carleton College, Northfield, Minnesota, B.A. 1958; Yale University, New Haven, Connecticut, M.A. 1959, Ph.D. 1965. Family: Married 1) Chloe Hamilton in 1963 (died 1985), one daughter and one son; 2) Georgia Newman in 1989. Career: Instructor, 1961–65, assistant professor, 1965–69, associate professor, 1969–73, since 1973 professor of English, and since 1986 Longman Professor, Oberlin College, Ohio. Since 1969 editor, Field: Contemporary Poetry and Poetics, Oberlin. Co-owner, Triskelion Press, Oberlin. Awards: Tane award (Massachusetts Review), 1965; National Endowment for the Arts grant, 1967, and fellowship, 1981; International Poetry Forum United States award, 1968; Guggenheim fellowship, 1978; Ohio State University Press/The Journal award, 1994. Address: Oberlin College, Department of English, Rice Hall, Oberlin, Ohio 44074, U.S.A.



Sweating Out the Winter. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1969.

Thoughts of Chairman Mao. Oberlin, Ohio, Triskelion Press, 1970.

Boxcars. New York, Ecco Press, 1973.

Work Lights: Thirty-Two Prose Poems. Cleveland, Cleveland State Poetry Center, 1977.

The Names of a Hare in English. Pittsburgh, University of Pittsburgh Press, 1979.

Foraging. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1986.

Earthshine. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1988.

The Planet on the Desk: Selected and New Poems, 1960–1990. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1991.

Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1994.

At the White Window. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 2000.


Something of Great Constancy: The Art of "A Midsummer Night's Dream." New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1966.

The Heart's Forest: A Study of Shakespeare's Pastoral Plays. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1972.

Troubled Mirror: A Study of Yeats's "The Tower." Iowa City, University of Iowa Press, 1987.

The Action to the Word: Structure and Style in Shakespearean Tragedy. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1990.

Seasoning: A Poet's Year: With Seasonal Recipes. Columbus, Ohio State University Press, 1999.

Editor, Twentieth Century Interpretations of "Henry IV, Part Two:" A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey, Prentice Hall, 1968.

Editor, with Stuart Friebert, A Field Guide to Contemporary Poetry and Poetics. New York, Longman, 1980; revised edition, Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College Press, 1997.

Editor, with Stuart Friebert, The Longman Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry, 1950–1980. New York, Longman, 1983; revised edition, 1989.

Editor, with Keith Hollaman, Magical Realist Fiction. New York, Longman, 1984.

Editor and Translator, The Dimension of the Present Moment: Essays, by Miroslav Holub. London, Faber, 1990.

Editor, with Stuart Friebert, Models of the Universe: An Anthology of the Prose Poem. Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College Press, 1995.

Translator, Six Poems from Wang Wet. Oberlin, Ohio, Triskelion Press, 1969.

Translator, Magic Strings: Nine Poems from Li Ho. Oberlin, Ohio, Pocket Pal Press, 1976.

Translator, Duino Elegies, by Rainer Maria Rilke. New York, Norton, 1978.

Translator, Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, Li Ho: Four T'ang Poets. Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, 1980; revised edition, as Five T'ang Poets: Wang Wei, Li Po, Tu Fu, Li Ho, Li Shing-yin, 1990.

Translator, with Stuart Friebert and David Walker, Valuable Nail: Selected Poems, by Günter Eich. Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, 1981.

Translator, with Dana Hábová, Interferon: or, On Theater, by Miroslav Holub. Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, 1982.

Translator, Sonnets to Orpheus, by Rainer Maria Rilke. Middletown, Connecticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1987.

Translator, The Heights of Macchu Picchu, by Pablo Neruda. N.p., Songs Before Zero Press, 1987.

Translator, with Dana Hábová, Vanishing Lung Syndrome, by Miroslav Holub. London, Faber, and Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College, 1990.

Translator, Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke: The Book of Fresh Beginnings. Oberlin, Ohio, Oberlin College Press, 1994.

Translator, with Jiann I. Lin, The Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu Xuanji. Middletown, Conneticut, Wesleyan University Press, 1998.


David Young comments:

My collections of poetry, I find, tend to be more and more unified by recurrent figures and themes. Since I depend very much on what is called "inspiration" in writing my poetry, it is gratifying to be able to shape the materials presented to me in that fashion into larger wholes that benefit from mirroring and echoing. Foraging is filled with images of mushrooms (and mushroom hunting, a hobby of mine) and ghosts. Both of these leading motifs relate to the way the imagination reuses and recycles what is lost, decayed, or difficult to accept. Earthshine is four poems, two long and two short, but really all one integrated text, the most unified book I have been able to manage.

*  *  *

David Young is a poet in the middle tradition. Neither conservative nor avant-garde, he writes in a style both modest and accomplished and addresses the great, familiar themes: death, history, desire, memory, the pressure of reality, the seductions of language, the claims of the imagination. A Shakespeare scholar, an editor of several anthologies and of the prominent journal Field, and a translator of Rilke, Miroslav Holub, Günter Eich, and several Chinese poets, Young displays his erudition only subtly. His many allusions are not obtrusive, and the poems do not depend on them. His important poems unite emotion and intellect, showing how feeling can be embedded in ideas and ideas in feeling and how both depend on the visible world.

Young's work has developed profoundly during his career. His lines have gradually become more subtle and gracious, his language more balanced and eloquent, his subject matter denser and more important. His first book, Sweating Out the Winter, is uneven. Keen images sometimes float on poems that do not cohere. A clear, rather plain diction and a spare line are often inappropriately wedded to spurious surrealism or youthful silliness. The worst poem asks, "Will Tarzan swing in time / down on his tall vine / to knock the nasty priest…?" We hope so, for "crocodiles slaver / lying in wait." The poem is about the relationship between art and reality, but in this case Young has not found the mise-en-scène in which to embed his theoretical concerns. But other poems in the same collection foreshadow the patient and tender notation that grounds ideas in Young's later work.

In his second collection, Boxcars, Young often tries the confines of an even smaller, plainer poem, derived in part from William Stafford. Some of these are quietly effective. Among the best is "Ohio," which defines human limitation in terms of landscape:

Looking across a field
at a stand of trees
—more than a windbreak
less than a forest—
is pretty much all
the view we have

Even so, the poem concludes that "there's a lot to see"; you could "sit all day" with "that view before you." Other poems in the volume seem strained and dated, however. There are still remnants of surrealism, the wrong mode for this poet. An example is a poem about the body as a "whole world," where there are "gangsters in the stomach," "babies screaming in the back," and "a big party in the groin," to which, fortunately, the reader is "not invited."

When they are not innate, surrealistic gestures can be a cover for the failure to observe accurately. Experimental flings can be a substitute for hard thought. But during the 1980s Young began to put his love for the play of language in the service of serious pleasure. Surprise becomes a necessity of the poem, not an escapade, as surface and substance unite.

Young's major treatise on the relations of language and meaning is the long title poem of The Names of a Hare in English. It opens with a thirteenth-century poem of the same title that lists more than seventy names for the hare. The old text instigates a brilliant meditation on "language, that burrow, warren, camouflage" that will "deceive you and survive you." Filled with the names of plants, animals, and stars, the poem proposes that "names bind us to strange forms of life." There are moments when these "baskets of epithets spilled down the page" become "a path to the heart."

Among Young's other important poems is "Mesa Verde," from Foraging. The setting is Chaco Canyon in New Mexico. Young's speaker longs to be inhabited by the past, to be entered by the dead and revivified by their presence. He calls on Anasazi, a Pueblo name for "the ancients":

Climb into me, Anasazi,
take my tongue and language,
tell how you came to farm the corn,
hoarding the snow-melt, learned
to be weavers, potters, masons
in the huge American daylight ………

The voice of Anasazi enters the poem to inscribe the history of the Pueblo people, who can now be observed only in the museum where

smaller than hummingbirds
these people kneel and climb in little models
weaving their tiny baskets
hoarding their dollhouse ears of corn.

Young toys with the idea that we all "crouch below some diorama / while sunlight moves across a mesa …" The poem closes as "the hummingbird comes to rest, midair, / and the mind meshes with other minds / lost patterns of thought that hang / over the mesas, across the hillsides," while the sun "carries the day away / through dry and shining air."

Young's mature work is consistently fine. He seems to have found what he needs: luxurious syntax, mellow language, a firm yet fluid landscape, humility, authenticity, dignity.

—Jane Somerville