Deanna Young is the author of four books of poetry, including House Dreams (2014) and Reunion (2018). Her work has been nominated for the Trillium Book Award for Poetry, the Pat Lowther Memorial Award, the Ottawa Book Award, and the Archibald Lampman Award. Among her influences are the poets Rilke, Yeats, Emily Dickinson, Franz Wright and Louise Glück. Her work has also been influenced by the hymns and folk music of the rural Southwestern Ontario culture in which she grew up. Her poems often have spiritual and psychological concerns, and incorporate elements of the gothic and the surreal. In 2019 she was appointed the English Poet Laureate of Ottawa for a two-year term.
In Grade 11. in Mr. Underhill’s English class, I read — or heard read — Alden Nowlan's “Britain Street”. It was a warm spring day in London, Ontario, in a portable at the end of the football field. The portable door was propped open, the pungent smell of torn-up turf wafting in, and he held up a worn copy of 15 Canadian Poets Plus 5, like a circuit rider might hold up a bible, and intoned, “This is a street at war./ The smallest children/ battle with clubs/ till the blood comes,/ shout ‘fuck you!’ / like a rallying cry —”. I was startled, instantly hooked. By the end of the poem, the top of my head was tingling and I thought, Wow, I want to do that. Whatever Nowlan had achieved in that poem, I wanted to try to do it too.
I started writing poetry in Grade 11 and thought of myself as a poet almost instantly, in the sense that I felt an instant sort of belonging in Poetry. Poetry was a world that made sense to me. It felt truer, more essential and more natural than anything else I’d encountered. In that innocent way I thought, If this feels so right to me then I must be a poet! Now, at parties, I would never say I was a poet. I sometimes say “I write poetry,” and people look at me funny. They seem both interested and baffled.
The poet’s job is to translate experience into words. It is very, very hard to do — unachieveable, in fact. I mean, lived experience exists in the realm of experience, not in mere words. But words are the tools we have to capture and communicate experience, so we use them and we try. And we keep trying to capture experience with words, like butterflies in a net, because when we get even close, it is marvelous — that instant of recoginition. Life becomes not only liveable, but is revealed to us in all its heartbreaking beauty. This is very rewarding and necessary work, for us as individuals and for society.
I would choose Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain” because it’s quite dramatic, and yet I imagine the poet’s voice as understated, so this would be a challenge of interpretation. I’m also interested in Dickinson's frequent use of long dashes. What is the proper pause for a long dash, anyway?