Christopher Buckley on Gary Young
Over the last twenty years, Gary Young has become recognized as one of the foremost proponents and writers of the prose poem. He has as well published several essays on its theory, form, and values.
Young's fifth full-length collection, No Other Life—a trilogy of books under one cover which included Days, Braver Deeds, and If He Had—received the PSA's William Carlos Williams Award for 2003. No Other Life demonstrates not only a continuing mastery of the prose poem form, but also a distillation of emotional context and concentration of the intellectual process.
Gary Young's most recent book, Pleasure, was published by Heyday Books in 2006, and this new work again confronts the problems of the physical world and the metaphysical, but it focuses more on joy and a positive view of the rush of existence despite all else. Young has been acknowledged with a second NEA grant in poetry, and over the years, his work has appeared in the foremost literary journals—Poetry, Antaeus, The Nation, Antioch Review, The Missouri Review, and American Poetry Review. He has also been awarded a National Endowment for the Humanities grant, and the prestigious James D. Phelan Literary Award. The YMCA in New York City selected Young for a residency in its Writers Voice series, and other awards include a Pushcart Prize, the 2001 Lyric Poetry Award from the PSA, a California Arts Council Grant, and a grant from the Vogelstein Foundation.
Previous books include Hands, The Dream of a Moral Life (Copper Beech Press 1990), Days (Silverfish Review Press, 1997), and Braver Deeds (Gibbs-Smith Publisher, 1999, winner of the Peregrine Smith National Poetry Prize). His New and Selected Poems is forthcoming from White Pine Press.
Gary Young's is a sensibility unique in American poetry, at once grounded in daily experience in his home in California and yet focused on, tuned to a metaphysical cast, a direction in no small way influenced by deep reading of Asian poetries. A luminous and concrete vision is at the center of his poetry. His recent books employ the prose-poem format exclusively and are shorter constructs, which move the quotidian to a significant level of contemplation and epiphany. His basis is the nature around him, and Young's textures and focuses show the speaker of the poem as part of nature, working within it and accountable to all things for action, thought, and being.
Gary Young is an original poetic voice, that rare poet who writes finely crafted poems that know music, and drive beyond the autobiographical to a more inclusive or expansive subject, and do so with grace and humility.
In one of his many published essays speaking to his choice of the prose poem and his process, Young writes:
I have found it more difficult to lie in prose, either through omission or amplification. Poems written in prose encourage—at least in me—a stricter honesty, and as a result the mysteries revealed—at least for now—seem more genuine and profound. I want to write with as much clarity as I can about those moments that define our lives . . . But each instant understood thoroughly—understood as God might understand it—is of a caliber with any other, not because it has been demoted to some lowest common denominator, but because each is a kernel and a mirror of eternity.
Despite all the in-fighting and posturing of our times, there is still room for beauty and truth, and one place to find it is in the poetry of Gary Young.