Gary Young is an alumnus and currently serves as a Continuing Lecturer for the school’s Creative Writing program as well as working as the Director of the Cowell Press, the letterpress printing operation housed in Cowell College.
Poet and artist Gary Young has received plenty of accolades and awards over the course of his lengthy career, including receiving a Pushcart Prize, the Shelley Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and the California Arts Council, as well as being named the first Poet Laureate of Santa Cruz County in 2010.
Even with all those honors under his belt, Young sounds a little awestruck at being asked to be the guest speaker at the 12th annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading, happening on November 18.
“It’s humbling,” Young said. “We’ve had a lot of great poets who’ve participated so far. To count myself among Gary Snyder and Gary Soto and Dorianne Laux and Joe Stroud and all the other great poets is thrilling, really.”
Inaugurated in 2010 and presented by The Humanities Institute, the Morton Marcus Poetry Reading was created to pay tribute to its namesake, Morton Marcus, the author of 12 volumes of poetry and a fixture of the Santa Cruz arts community who passed away in 2009. Each event features a reading by a distinguished poet as well as the announcement of the winner of the Morton Marcus Poetry Contest, which comes with a $1,000 prize.
Young is no stranger to these events nor to its namesake. Morton Marcus has long been one of Young’s favorite poets, and the two became friends through their time teaching at the summer Writer’s Conference at Foothill College and sharing the stage at readings. Since Marcus’ passing, Young has hosted several Morton Marcus Poetry Readings and served on the organizing committee.
He is also no stranger to UC Santa Cruz. Young is an alumnus of the university and currently serves as a Continuing Lecturer for the school’s Creative Writing program as well as working as the Director of the Cowell Press, the letterpress printing operation housed in Cowell College.
“I’ve really enjoyed teaching at UCSC,” Young said. “The department’s great and our students are wonderful. And being asked to revitalize the Cowell Press, I essentially have two jobs. I’m being punished for all those years that I didn’t have a job!”
Young didn’t start teaching until later in his life, right around the time he turned 50 in 2001. Before that, he devoted his energies to his writing and his art. In addition to his poetry and his work as a translator of works originally published in China and Japan, Young has illustrated, designed, and printed several art books and trade publications over the years. Through it all, he has continued to produce incredible poems—powerful, richly detailed verses often inspired by the bounty of the natural world. And as with most great poetry, Young’s work is great on the page, but truly comes to life when it is read aloud.
“The bottom line is that poetry is aural art,” Young said. “The first poems were chanted or sung. Poems were not written down on a page until quite recently in human history. I do like to read and I enjoy talking a bit about the poems. My favorite readings are ones where it’s split between an explanation by the poet and the poems themselves. That’s what I try to do in my readings.”
The 12th Annual Morton Marcus Poetry Reading will be held via a Zoom webinar on Nov. 18 at 5:30pm and is hosted this year by poet Danusha Laméris. Registration is required.