Well, Governor Schwarzenegger has finally done something right. A few days ago he nominated Al Young as California’s Poet Laureate.
It’s an inspired choice as Young will be a terrific ambassador for poetry. He’s funny, engaging, and articulate. He can talk about poems, rap about music, rhapsodize about writing, and make audiences laugh.
I’ve listened to Young talk the last two summers when I attended the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. He’s been going to the Lake Tahoe writer’s workshop for decades now, as have many of the teachers. They are all friends and colleagues of the writer Oakley Hall and his wife Barbara, and together they’ve created a welcoming, comradely environment where unpublished authors mingle with the likes of Amy Tan, Anne Lamott, Janet Fitch, and top editors and agents from the New York publishing scene.
Young, who lives in Berkeley, is always among the most relaxed and forthcoming of the teachers. Along with writing poetry, he writes screenplays, novels, and non-fiction meditations on music. He’s won lots of different awards, including the Pushcart Prize and the Pen/Library of Congress award for short fiction.
Young’s got a lot of redeeming to do, as the last Poet Laureate, Quincy Troupe, resigned in 2002 after it turned out he had lied about having a college diploma. But I look forward a new appreciation of poetry.
Here’s a poem Young wrote in 2001: From his website.
TO BE THE PERFECT FOOL
To be the perfect fool ain't all that bad.
You mess yourself up mostly, no one else
cares really what you do. Why should you add
more worry to their night? Go work your spells
elsewhere, someplace where pride and making sense
don't count. Jump to your own conclusion. Run.
Where fools and money part, you can dispense
with chance. All foolishness can be no fun.
You bet against yourself: the perfect fool.
Divine intelligence, the muse, the gods -
whatever works, or doesn't. What's uncool?
To put it plainly: Just what are the odds
of you, the lover, coming out ahead,
when bombs this sad world drops come down with bread?