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Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebelsby Kevin Young
Synopses & Reviews
Acclaimed poet Kevin Young gathers here a chorus of voices that tells the story of the Africans who mutinied onboard the slave ship Amistad. Written over twenty years, this poetic epic—part libretto, part captivity epistle—makes the past present, and even its sorrows sing.
In “Buzzard,” the opening section, we hear from the African interpreter for the rebels, mostly from Sierra Leone, who were captured on their winding attempt to sail home and were jailed in New Haven. In “Correspondance,” we encounter the remarkable letters to John Quincy Adams and others that the captives write from jail, where abolitionists taught them English while converting them to Christianity. In lines profound and pointed, the men demand their freedom in their newfound tongue: “All we want is make us free.” The book culminates in “Witness,” a libretto chanted by Cinque, the rebel leader, who yearns for his family and freedom while eloquently evoking the Amistads conversion and life in “Merica.”
As Young conjures this array of history and music, interweaving the liberation cry of Negro spirituals and the indoctrinating wordplay of American primers, he delivers his signature songlike immediacy at the service of a tremendous epic built on the ironies, violence, and virtues of American history. Vivid and true, Ardency is a powerful meditation on who weve been and who we are.
"The story of the Amistad is widely known: enslaved Africans on a Spanish ship sailing from Cuba in 1839 took over the schooner and sailed to the United States. Put in jail in New Haven, the Amistad rebels found assistance from American abolitionists when they faced trial: finally they were allowed to return to Sierra Leone. The prolific Young (Dear Darkness) has organized a big and varied book around that story. The strongest part, called a libretto, consists largely of short-lined, intense poems sung, spoken, or thought by the rebel leader Cinque, who muses often on Christian providence: 'Our shroud a sail — / heaven our home — // we compass/ our helpless bones.' Stanzaic poems at the start and the end of the volume follow the Amistad Africans in America and after their return, giving voice to perhaps a dozen characters: 'My calling is to vanish,' says the free black translator James Covey, 'finish/ the thoughts others don't know/ they own.' The famous story becomes a microcosm of everything wrong with American, and Atlantic, history. As with Young's previous ambitious book-length projects (such as a verse life of Jean-Michel Basquiat), the book taken as a whole is more powerful than some of the individual poems. That whole is impressive indeed. (Feb.)" Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright PWyxz LLC)
About the Author
Kevin Young is the author of six collections of poetry and the editor of Library of America’s John Berryman: Selected Poems, the Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets anthologies Blue Poems and Jazz Poems, and Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers. His book Jelly Roll was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and won the Paterson Poetry Prize. His collection For the Confederate Dead won the 2007 Quill Award for poetry and the Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement. Dear Darkness won the Southern Independent Bookseller Award and the Julia Ward Howe Prize. The recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship, Young is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing and curator of Literary Collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta.
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