David Young,Poet


David Young, Longman Professor of English at Oberlin College, lives in a California contemporary home on a quiet suburban street named in honor of a founder of the liberal arts school where he has taught since 1961. Young’s study overlooks his backyard, a half-wild expanse that backs up to a woods. “The Day Nabokov Died,” Young, a former Guggenheim, National Endowment for the Arts and Ohio Arts Council fellowship recipient, “looked up from my weeding / and saw a butterfly, coal black / floating across Plum Creek. Which facts / are laced with lies; it was another day, / it was a monarch if it was black, / it must have been incinerator fluff. / A black hinge, opening and shutting.”

To less sensitive eyes, Young’s sycamore-fringed piece of Lake Erie watershed (Plum Creek empties into the Black River, which then makes its way to the lake) could stand a little more weeding. To the poet, it is as magical an environment as his maternal grandfather’s farm near Davenport, Iowa, his birthplace in 1936. He sees in it such wonders as ant glint, petal hail, and dancing rabbits, the hare being a totem that pops up throughout Young’s eight remarkable volumes of poetry. The first won the U.S. Award of the International Poetry Forum in 1966, the year his dissertation, Something of Great Constancy: The Art of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” was published to widespread acclaim, twin events that sealed Young’s ambition: He would become a man of letters.

At night Young’s yard is stalked by the spirit of Germany’s Rainer Maria Rilke, whose Duino Elegies is among the literature for which Young has provided respected translations. He has also translated for publication the works of six T’ang poets, Pablo Neruda and the poems and scientific essays of the Czech Republic’s Miroslav Holub.

Although he spent his adolescence in Omaha and trained to be a literary scholar at Yale (Ph.D., 1965), Young’s own writing is rooted in the natural world that is northeastern Ohio and inspired by a desire to understand his connection to this time and place. His two most recent books are literally set in his own back yard. The extremely ambitious Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan (1994) consists of two poems. The first, a mere 100 lines, is written in the voice and spirit of the 17th-century Welsh mystic poet whose moonlit visions inspired the second poem in the volume, a book-length meditation dealing with Young’s wide-ranging observations and emotions during a night spent outdoors one August.

Seasoning: A Poets Year (Ohio State University Press, 1999), his most recent book, combines personal recipes based on the bounty of this bioregion with memoir, nature writing and, of course, a selection of his poems. Only half facetiously, Young says he concocted this flavorful pot-au-feu, sensual and heart-gladdening (Kirkus Reviews), as a strategem to introduce the unsuspecting or intimidated to poetry. Organized by the months of the year, Seasoning may be best appreciated by reading each month's chapter in its time. A self-described and masterful word-picker and phrase-gardener, Young invites us to slow down and savor life.

—Diana Tittle


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

in summer it's lush
in winter it gets
down to two or
three tones for
there might be
an unpainted barn
water patches
a transmission tower

yet there's a lot
to see
you could sit
all day on the rusty
seat of a harrow
with the view before you
and all the sorrows
this earth has seen
sees now will see
could pass through
you like a long
mad bolt of lightning
leaving you drained
and shaken
at dusk
the field would be
the same and the growing
shadows of the trees
would cross it toward you
until you rose your heart
pounding with joy and walked
gladly through the weeds
and toward the trees

The Planet on the Desk, Selected and New Poems (Wesleyan University Press, 1991)

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