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David Young

In 1936, David Young was born in Davenport, Iowa. He earned a BA from Carleton College, and an MA and PhD from Yale University.

He is the author of several collections of poetry, including Field of Light and Shadow (Knopf, 2010); Black Lab (2006); At the White Window (2000); Night Thoughts and Henry Vaughan (1994), which won the Ohio State University Press/The Journal Award in Poetry; The Planet on the Desk: Selected and New Poems 1960-1990 (1991); Foraging (1986); Earthshine (1988); The Names of a Hare in English (1979); Work Lights: Thirty-Two Prose Poems (1977); and Boxcars (1972).

His first collection, Sweating Out the Winter (1969), was selected by William Stafford, Isabella Gardner, and Stanley Kunitz for the United States Award of the International Poetry Forum.

Young has also published numerous volumes of translation, including Out on the Autumn River: Selected Poems by Du Mu (2006) and Clouds Float North: The Complete Poems of Yu Xuanji (1998), both with Jiann I. Lin; Selected Poems by Eugenio Montale (2004), with Charles Wright and Jonathan Galassi); The Poetry of Petrarch (2004); The Book of Fresh Beginnings: Selected Poems of Rainer Maria Rilke (1994), Miroslav Holub's Vanishing Lung Syndrome and The Dimension of the Present Moment (both 1990), Five T'ang Poets (1990), Pablo Neruda's The Heights of Macchu Picchu (1987), and Rilke's Duino Elegies (1980).

He has edited several anthologies, most recently Models of the Universe: An Anthology of the Prose Poem (with Stuart Friebert, 1995), and has published several volumes of criticism and prose, including Six Modernist Moments in Poetry (2006), The Action to the Word: Structure and Style in Shakespearean Tragedy (1990) and Seasoning: A Poet's Year, With Seasonal Recipes (1999). For the latter, and for his general accomplishments as a poet, he was awarded the Cleveland Arts Prize.

About Young's poetry, the poet Stanley Plumly wrote, "In keeping with the whole heart of all his work, David Young’s Black Lab draws from a variety of sources—a fellowship of poets, an intimacy of landscape, a celebration of the elegy—yet comes, in each of the poems, to a single, and singular, place of rest, calm, and clarity. There is a quality of beatitude, an elevation of the quotidian, a defining of value here. This is a book to carry, to rejoice in on those dark days."

His honors include fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities, and the Ohio Arts Council. He has been the recipient of a Pushcart Prize as well as a Witter Bynner Translation Fellowship.

Young has been Longman Professor of English at Oberlin College since 1986 and an editor of FIELD magazine since 1969. He lives in Oberlin, Ohio.

By This Poet


Poem for Adlai Stevenson and Yellow Jackets

It's summer, 1956, in Maine, a camp resort 
on Belgrade Lakes, and I am cleaning fish, 
part of my job, along with luggage, firewood, 
Sunday ice cream, waking everyone 
by jogging around the island every morning 
swinging a rattle I hold in front of me 
to break the nightly spider threads. 
Adlai Stevenson is being nominated, 
but won't, again, beat Eisenhower, 
sad fact I'm half aware of, steeped as I am 
in Russian novels, bathing in the tea-
brown lake, startling a deer and chasing it by canoe 
as it swims from the island to the mainland. 
I'm good at cleaning fish: lake trout, 
those beautiful deep swimmers, brown trout, 
I can fillet them and take them to the cook 
and the grateful fisherman may send a piece 
back from his table to mine, a salute. 
I clean in a swarm of yellow jackets, 
sure they won't sting me, so they don't, 
though they can't resist the fish, the slime, 
the guts that drop into the bucket, they're mad 
for meat, fresh death, they swarm around 
whenever I work at this outdoor sink 
with somebody's loving catch.
Later this summer we'll find their nest 
and burn it one night with a blowtorch 
applied to the entrance, the paper hotel 
glowing with fire and smoke like a lantern,
full of the death-bees, hornets, whatever they are, 
that drop like little coals
and an oily smoke that rolls through the trees 
into the night of the last American summer 
next to this one, 36 years away, to show me 
time is a pomegranate, many-chambered, 
nothing like what I thought.

One A.M. [excerpt]

You'll show that toad-eater who wrote Night Thoughts 
what's happened in two centuries or so.

You'll make your yard the spirit's doorway 
to metamorphs and comet-lit inventions.

Go ahead, walk the cathedral-volumned night. 
Let Perseids stripe your eyes.


I read the other day
that giant black snowballs from outer space 
created our oceans.

Center me, physics, keep me 
from brooding too long on my fear, 
on the pickup truck that rammed the school bus, 
on the strange sea pastures of the Persian Gulf, 
on love and its string of losses.

Now everything's strings, they say, cosmic strings 
that pull the galaxies toward the Great Attractor
holding all matter together.

Microcosm, meet macrocosm. 
Solace us with your kinship, make 
one little yard an everywhere.

I think of Calvino's 
dark, humorous mind, 
another squirrel in the treetops--
how he made truth and wit 
from troubling loops of knowledge.

And Miroslav Holub, 
who lived alone in this house one spring 
and pondered this yard as I do. 
The appetite for fact
helped him survive, walk around 
and laugh to himself, inside 
this century's bluntest terrors-- 
the one that Hitler made, 
the one that Stalin added.

A string may link me to them here, 
and run
right through the blackened school bus, 
the rubble of Beirut, 
down to the toxic wastes, on up and out 
to the ice ball punching our atmosphere--

Like Theseus in his labyrinth, 
I stand here holding
my little end of string.


I caught and cupped a firefly just now 
like an old miser blowing on his palms 
to keep some warmth in.

I'd like that glow to be
The milky streams of star-mess overhead, 
the rivulets of words below,

nacreous teeth of the speaker in the dark 
words folding into the spiral that runs up

to the coiled shape of galaxies
as the brain whorls match the labyrinthine curves,

echoing stairwell, spinning DNA,
the play with nests and shrinking models,

the sidewise slide, the folding-up of sense, 
the web the spider swings and spins, connecting.


Is this a dream?--I see my grandpa milking, 
I watch my mother watching him.
The cats swarm round, the barn is cold, 
the cows chew steadily and stamp 
in random patterns, defecate 
in flops and splatters, steaming heaps.

I'm the froth of the milk, the silvery pail, 
the piles of hay, the cats 
spiraling round my legs. 
I am the frost-coated lightning rod.

We play with infinity, this is our luck,
measureless measuring, lot lines and boundaries 
always deferred, always potential, 
doing, undoing, doing, undoing, 
we repeat ourselves so infinity
can make love to finity, kiss it, 
dance with it all night.

I taste the water from that old farm's well. 
The milk was warm. The water's hard and sweet.


Repetition's magic. I knew it in my bones. 
Let me repeat my dream for you, 
let me repeat it for myself.

Let me talk on in this starlight, 
these meteor streakings of nonsense, 
this chaos, these fractals and freckles.

Don't take my words away from me yet. 
I'm doing my midnight weeding, 
grasping the thistles close to the root,

I'm losing the dream farm, I'm 
probably failing, repeating 
what others have said-- 

but that farm, like an old brown photograph
suddenly filling the senses-- 
and this night, like a silver gelatin print--

and a string that runs from me to the past:
the view from the farmhouse window 
across the silent fields of snow.

Mother's Day

        —for my children

I see her doing something simple, paying bills,
or leafing through a magazine or book,
and wish that I could say, and she could hear,

that now I start to understand her love
for all of us, the fullness of it.

It burns there in the past, beyond my reach,
a modest lamp.