Texas Poet Laureate Dean Young brought his passion for poetry education to Austin College this week. The University of Texas English professor was a guest teacher in several classes and performed some of his free verse to a standing-room only audience at a Tuesday afternoon reading.

Texas Poet Laureate Dean Young brought his passion for poetry education to Austin College this week. The University of Texas English professor was a guest teacher in several classes and performed some of his free verse to a standing-room only audience at a Tuesday afternoon reading.


"My secret agenda is to teach (students) to write things that I want to read," Young said. The softspoken professor is a writer as rife with intriguing contradictions as his often subversive and surprising poems. Young used the words "silly" and "absurd" most often to describe his own poetry, but he did not shy away from explaining the dark themes that inspire his work to AC students.


Young answered some students’ questions after his reading. One student asked, "Do (your poems) make you laugh out loud as you’re writing them?"


Young answered: "No, I never laugh out loud, and I don’t really think my poems are funny." The room filled with laughter in response, a familiar sound during Young’s reading.


"A student once asked me why my poems are funny," Young said, "and I said ‘because life is brief, we often don’t get what we want, and then we die.’"


Young’s morbid explanation of his humor drew raucous laughter from the crowd. "Humor, I think a lot about humor," Young said. "One of the things we don’t always realize is that … we laugh at the truth. And it’s usually the truth in a context in which we’re not expecting to hear the truth, which is almost all the time."


Young said he has been composing poetry for as long as he could write, "about first grade." The poet said he still writes his poems by hand, then uses a typewriter to transpose them. Using a typewriter is "as close as I get to playing a musical instrument," he said.


Young said he encourages his students to write by hand or use an old-fashioned typewriter to compose poetry. "It lets you have a more tactile sense of what a line is, a line of poetry. A computer will let you go on forever. It disembodies writing."


The professor said his passion for teaching poetry hasn’t waned since the moment in college when he "realized that you could be a professor of poetry. I said at the time and, to me still, that’s a really cool thing, … just to be included in the art that way, to work with young writers and glimpse what the future of poetry will be like."


One group of AC students made their best effort to meet Young’s enthusiastic approach to teaching with their own novel approach to poetry. The Austin College Improv Troupe took the opportunity to perform some improvisational poetry for the professor after his reading on Tuesday. AC Senior Lizzy Ana Lincoln said the troupe put the show together on short notice after finding out that many of their members planned on attending the reading.


"We are very grateful to have Mr. Young come share his work with us, and we’d like to share our work with you. It’s a little more loosely composed," Lincoln said before the group began. Young laughed throughout the troupe’s performance and later said he greatly enjoyed the show and had never seen anything like it before.


The Texas Poet Laureate is appointed annually by a committee of the Texas State Legislature "to designate an outstanding and recognized poet, who is also a citizen of Texas," according to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission’s website.


Young has published more than a dozen collections of poetry, which are widely available online and in bookstores.