Poetry Santa Cruz Poetry Santa Cruz

An Interview with Gary Young

by Maggie Paul

Gary Young is a poet who has called Santa Cruz home for thirty years. Former student of the poet/printer William Everson, Young combines the arts of poetry and printmaking. His new book, No Other Life, will appear later this year with two previous books, Days and Braver Deeds, as part of a trilogy from Creative Arts Books. 

Maggie Paul: Your poems are rich in landscape imagery. Are you a native of California? Do you think you would be just as inspired by your surroundings if you lived somewhere else, or does Santa Cruz hold a certain charm for you?

Gary Young: I was born in California, and except for brief periods when I've taken teaching jobs out of state, I've lived here all my life. The California landscape features significantly in my work, especially Santa Cruz County where I've lived for over thirty years. I can't deny that landscape affects me wherever I am. When I taught in New York City I wrote poems about New York City; when I was in Missouri I wrote about Missouri. But Santa Cruz is home, and so Santa Cruz has gotten the most ink. 

MP: The quiet, meditative quality of your poems is striking. As a reader, it is a delight to step back from the world of multi-media and experience the precise attention you pay to individual moments. In The Dream of a Moral Life there is an epigraph by St. Anthony Abbat which reads, "The prayer is not perfect/if the monk knows he is praying. "Do you see writing poetry as a form of prayer? And is it necessary then, for the poet to transcend the awareness of the act of writing in order to truly "pray?"

GY: I do believe that every poem is a prayer, and Saint Anthony offers a profound conundrum to the religious, and by extension, to the artist: can a monk set out to pray and then forget he is praying? Can a poet forget that he or she is writing and still write? The problem lies with the ego and with intention: I want my prayer to be perfect, my poem to be perfect, but I must somehow forget that's what I've set out to accomplish. This job is easier for saints than for the rest of us. 

MP: Your books, Days, Braver Deeds, and If He Had are considered a trilogy, and I understand they will appear in a single volume this year from Creative Arts Books under the title, No Other Life. Can you talk a bit about how the three books work as a trilogy? Did you conceive of them that way from the beginning? Do they share a chronological or thematic relationship?

GY: I first tried to write a book about my mother, a book that ultimately became Braver Deeds, but I discovered that I didn't have the poetic licks to carry it off. It was clear that I would have to work up to it, and so I began Days, a book that centers upon the birth of my first son. When I'd finished that book I returned to Braver Deeds equipped with new tools, and with the knowledge that these two books would have to be answered by a third. I wasn't sure how they would fit together, but I knew from the start that there would be three books talking to one another. 

Santa Cruz County poet, and book printer Gary Young read from his work at Bookshop Santa Cruz, 1520 Pacific Ave., Santa Cruz on Tuesday, August 14th at 7:30 PM. He was joined by five other poets whose work appears in the fifth issue of the Montserrat Review. 

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