In Elegy on Toy Piano, Dean Young's sixth book of poems, elegiac necessity finds itself next to goofy celebration. Daffy Duck enters the Valley of the Eternals. Faulkner and bell-bottoms cling to beauty's evanescence. Even in single poems, Young's tone and style vary. No one feeling or idea takes precedence over another, and their simultaneity is frequently revealed; sadness may throw a squirrelly shadow, joy can find itself dressed in mourning black. As in the agitated “Whirlpool Suite”: “Pain / and pleasure are two signals carried / over one phoneline.” In taking up subjects as slight as the examination of a signature or a true/false test, and as pressing as the death of friends, Young's poems embrace the duplicity of feeling, the malleability of perception, and the truth telling of wordplay.
Confidently balances moments of absurdity against high drama and raw admissions of emotion. . . . His particular mix of the silly and the deadly serious increases the poignancy of the poems. . . . This book of energetic, chronic juxtaposition pieces together a winning, tinkling set of send-offs for friends, and for feelings.
Stretches beyond grief to portray a wide range of mixed emotions.
Dean Young's work, I've concluded, will delight only two kinds of people: those who generally read poetry and those who generally don't. The former will find a promising revitalization project and unalloyed pleasure. The latter will find, to their unalloyed pleasure, that perhaps poetry isn't how they imagined it. . . . Young is the architect of an amusement park, but he's also the mescaline-addled raconteur in the truth-teller's booth at that amusement park. He's both dreamscaper and landscaper, spinner of fantastic yarns and unremitting bullshit-detector. He's initiating protests with water guns. He's composing dirges on plastic accordions and elegies on toy pianos.
Young writes playfully and snappily like the best of the New York School of poets. . . . he welds pop culture and surrealism, referencing Marilyn Monroe as gleefully and easily as he does Breton. . . . Clever imp that he is, Young does clearly relish the absurd, the illogical, the profane and the ribald.
Young has found a world vibrantly alive at every turn—and he has shown us a way to live in this world, in this moment, in poetry.
I wanted to start by saying this is the best damn book I've ever read . . . he has such presence in his work; an articulate and eccentric voice, the train of thought ridden to the end of the line . . .there's something so uplifting about this work — both cerebral and generous, playful and angry. It engages you on a number of levels, making for an invigorating intellectual workout. . . . Liking Young's poetry is not a matter of taste. If you don't like it, you don't havey any. . . . A subversive triumph of the imagination.
Dean Young has published eight previous books, most recently elegy on toy piano, a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize, and Embryoyo. He has received fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts as well as an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He teaches in the Iowa Writers’ Workshop.