The Art of Recklessness: Poetry as Assertive Force and Contradiction
By Dean Young
Graywolf Press, August, 2010
Dean Young’s book is one that I liked very much, 110 percent as they say in some parts of this island, and I’d recommend it to anyone who writes poetry (or hopes or intends to) or anyone who reads the stuff. Yet I find it by no means a simple matter to summarise the book’s contents. It is curiously encouraging in this regard that the author writes, some 13 pages or so before the close: ‘I was hoping that at some point I would figure out what this book is about – maybe you are too.’ I’m (and we the readers are) in good company.
The message that I took home from Young’s book was something like this: live to the full and make poetry (if you write it) as vital as your life. Be sure to make it matter. He writes early on (some of the prose is in CAPITALS) that:
THE HIGHEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF HUMAN CONSCIOUSNESS IS THE IMAGINATION AND THE HIGHEST ACCOMPLISHMENT OF THE IMAGINATION IS EMPATHY and the ability to love, and if you don’t think that takes a profound part in the creation of the world, please close the book right now. (14)
In fact, I read to the end, though sometimes skipping a little and then retracing my steps. A fair whack of the book is concerned with Dada and Surrealism, just to give you an idea of where (in significant part) Young is coming from. And the title is taken, I think, from John Ashbery (quoted on page 42): ‘Most reckless things are beautiful in some way and recklessness is what makes experimental art beautiful.’
Throughout, there’s a lot of luminous polemic, a slue of terrific poems (Man Ray’s ‘Untitled’ was a new one on me), a bevy of insights about art and poetry. If you are looking for a classy thought-provoking rant, if you want something to stir and shake you up and perhaps inspire you to start writing poems (if you don’t already) then The Art of Recklessness is prescribed. And take to heart (and to art) Young’s edict: POETRY IS ALWAYS IN ADVANCE OF CRITICISM!
Amen to that.