The Art of Recklessness
Dean Young
Graywolf Press, $12 (paper)

Dean Young’s first book of criticism is a frenetic and subversive meditation on poetry and poetics seemingly inspired by Whitman’s exhortation to “unscrew the locks from the doors! / Unscrew the doors themselves from their jambs!” In sync with the principles of primitivism and surrealism—and of a mind that “quaintness may be the worst that can happen to an art”—Young encourages poems to explore “primary human dilemmas, the assertion of the monstrous if need be, the instinctual, visceral, sexual, rogue, absurd.” He champions the imagination as “the highest accomplishment of human consciousness” and adds healthy doses of crudity and contradiction to his poetics, recoiling at “the anemic and timid that masks itself in the veneer of prosodic perfection or in the dry ice fog of experimentation.” Though Young offers no explicit “how to” suggestions about craft (remaining suspicious of totalitarian notions of how a poem should be written), he does pull the reins in on Ginsberg’s “first thought, best thought” philosophy, insisting on “detachment from [our] work” in order to achieve “a sophisticated sense of the art beyond our sense of self . . . to see poems as . . . material to be manipulated.” At the same time, he maintains, “Poetry is not a discipline. It is a hunger, a revolt, a drive.” Spirited and bracing, The Art of Recklessness will feed the emerging poet seeking inspiration and wake up the established poet in need of revitalizing.