From Our Staff | April 26, 2011

The poet Dean Young, ready to drop knowledge and drink ice water.

This past Friday, my friend Marc McKee organized a benefit at Orr Street Studios here in downtown Columbia in order to raise money for Dean Young. In case you haven’t heard the good news, Dean received a transplant last week, and thus far, all news has been good about his body accepting the new ticker. More news on his progress is here. All of us feel tremendous relief at this news. Despite the circumstances, the benefit was more of a celebration, a social event that honors both Dean’s spirit by being as lively, funny, encouraging and deeply benevolent as the man is,  as well as his poetry’s zany and antic cartwheels in the service of art and beauty.

However …

The good fight isn’t over. Surgery is expensive. Heart surgery is really expensive. And this isn’t the time or place for political discourse, but health insurance is only going to get Dean so far. We need your help. Marc, knowing this, asked for a little help. Gabe Fried, a terrific poet himself, helped Marc round up poets to give their time and energy; and Allison Smythe was instrumental in securing the space at Orr Street Studios on such short notice. The three of them put on a terrific and fun benefit last week in the hope of raising whatever amount they could to help with the medical costs. Dean’s friend Joe DiPrisco has been the mastermind behind several national events that have been created in order to help out. Here‘s where you can get the good word.  Joe wrote:

Dean’s expenses will be sky high and relentless for as long as he lives–which is going to be a long time if we can help it. Yes, he has “good” insurance, but insurance does not pay for everything, and we estimate his out-of-pocket expenses to be in the area of $50,000 to $100,000 a year—going forward for many years to come.

At the benefit, Marc let us know that over $170,000 has been raised by nearly a thousand contributors thus far. Eight poets affiliated with the University of Missouri, Stephens College, and the local arts community came together to celebrate Dean’s work; each poet read at least one (often two of Dean’s poems) as well as one of their own. The readers included Marc, Gabe, and Allison, as well as poets were Katy Didden, Jessica Starr, Melissa Range, Austin Segrest, and Sara Strong.

Dean Young is a close, dear friend of Marc’s, and hearing Marc talk about what Dean meant to him, what his poetry has meant to him, and to so many others, was one of the highlights of the evening. Katy Didden shared her story of meeting Dean at Bread Loaf, his pure delight at being there, in open fields under a clear sky, meeting fellow writers with his characteristic joy and good humor.

Marc McKee captivating the audience through lyrical hypnosis.

Here’s something to acknowledge: several poets admitted they have never Dean. I thought this was a brave and marvelous thing.  They only knew Dean through his poetry, just from what they’ve discovered about him through his work, his influence on Marc, and the impact he’s made on “Dean-iacs” over his many years of teaching. His accomplishments are numerous: ten books of poetry, Pulitzer Prize finalist, the Griffin Prize, the Lenore Marshall prize, and the winner of an Academy Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, a Guggenheim Fellowship, two NEA fellowships, and so on. But the accolades really don’t matter: something about his poetry has moved us.

It’s strange to hear the cadence of eight different poets reading Dean’s work. I’ve read another writer’s work aloud before, and it is an incredible challenge: the inflections, pauses, rhythms, all of it, is so different when it isn’t the work that you spent months working on. Yet every single poet read Dean’s poems magnificently. We laughed a lot Friday night – how can you not when hearing Dean’s best work? – but there were also moments that also brought us to tears, like the final stanza in “Elegy for a Toy Piano“:

When something becomes ash,
there’s nothing you can do to turn it back.
About this, even diamonds do not lie.

We also heard “Changing Genres”, “Red Glove Thrown in Thorn Bush“, “Commencement Address“, “Bay Arena“, “Centrifuge“, “One Story”, and “How I Get My Ideas.” It was a terrific, successful, fantastic evening, and we all have Marc McKee, Gabe Fried, and Allison Smythe to thank (along with all the other poets) for such a great event.

One thing I always tell my writing students is “be generous.” Sounds simple, but as we all know, it really is incredibly hard to be a giving and kind person, not just in a workshop, but with our writing, with ourselves, and throughout our lives. And, so, my request to all of you out there in the TMR audience, is just that: be generous. We need your generosity. It would be an incredible gift if you would.

Michael Nye is the managing editor of the Missouri Review. Donations for Dean can be made at the National Transplants website,, can be made by clicking here. Remember that any size donation, even just a buck or two, is greatly appreciated and goes a long way towards helping. Thank you!