A veritable who’s who from the poetry world gathered last week on the University of California Berkeley campus for the latest in a series of fundraisers aimed to raise money for medical costs for Dean Young, author of the numerous collections, including Elegy (a Pulitzer finalist), Skid and, the just released, Fall Higher from Copper Canyon Press.
While it might be said that a poet’s heart beats a little differently than the average person, Young, 57, underwent emergency heart surgery in December and a transplant operation in April. While Young’s insurance through the University of Texas at Austin covered the surgery, poet and novelist Joseph Di Prisco, chair of the Dean Young fundraising efforts, explained that Young’s out-of-pocket expenses will be about $50,000 a year. Young was born with a heart defect. “The goal is to keep him alive and out of bankruptcy for as long as he lives, which we hope is a long, long time,” said Di Prisco.
Working with the National Foundation for Transplants since December, and holding events in Texas, New York, North Carolina and Minnesota, so far they have raised more than $177,000.
Last week, Michael Wiegers, executive editor at Cooper Canyon, reminded those in attendance at the reading that Young’s need will be annual for the rest of his life. “What we have in Dean, as many here tonight have suggested, is a love poet,” said Wiegers, adding that Young searched for the beloved in everything. Then Wiegers read from a new poem Young asked him to read at the event called “Harvest.”
It begins: “Bring me the heart of a trapezist./ If not, bring me the heart of a drunk monk/ that I may illuminate an ancient text/ in a language I can’t understand.”
Sharing the dais with Wiegers and Di Prisco were: David Breskin, W.S. Di Piero, Robert Hass, Brenda Hillman, Troy Jollimore, Dora Malech, D.A. Powell and Octavio Solis. They alternated reading Young’s work with their own.
Acting as emcee, Oscar Villalon, managing editor of ZYZZYVA (which co-sponsored the event with the Squaw Valley Community of Writers), looked at the renown poets on the stage and said, “Save your programs, because no one is going to believe you.”
Young told PW he was “humbled, grateful to have such great friends and support from so many areas.”
Di Prisco said more events around he country are in the works, and donations can be made at: www.transplants.org/donate/deanyoung. The next fundraiser to take place in Iowa City, on August 29, features authors associated with the famed Iowa Writers' Workshop.