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For the Confederate Dead: Poems

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For the Confederate Dead: Poems Cover

 

 

Excerpt

TABERNACLE

Since they shared the same

monogram, Jim

Crow & Jesus

often found themselves

getting the others dress shirts

back from the wash.

This was after Jim

had made it big

& could afford such

small luxuries. He

& Jesus mostly met

Sundays in church

where Jesus came for the singing

but stayed for the sermon

& to see whether the preacher

ever got it right.

Jim, you guessed it,

came for the collection plate

& after stayed

for the hot

plates of the Ladies

Auxiliary (no apostrophe).

To one

folks prayed,

the other they obeyed.

FOR THE CONFEDERATE DEAD

I go with the team also. –Whitman

These are the last days

my television says. Tornadoes, more

rain, overcast, a chance

of sun but I do not

trust weathermen,

never have. In my fridge only

the milk makes sense–

expires. No one, much less

my parents, can tell me why

my middle name is Lowell,

and from my table

across from the Confederate

Monument to the dead (that pale

finger bone) a plaque

declares war–not Civil,

or Between

the States, but for Southern

Independence. In this café, below sea-

and eye-level a mural runs

the wall, flaking, a plantation

scene most do not see–

its too much

around the knees, heighth

of a child. In its fields Negroes bend

to pick the endless white.

In livery a few drive carriages

like slaves, whipping the horses, faces

blank and peeling. The old hotel

lobby this once was no longer

welcomes guests–maroon ledger,

bellboys gone but

for this. Like an inheritance

the owner found it

stripping hundred years

(at least) of paint

and plaster. More leaves each day.

In my movie there are no

horses, no heroes,

only draftees fleeing

into the pines, some few

who survive, gravely

wounded, lying

burrowed beneath the dead–

silent until the enemy

bayonets what is believed

to be the last

of the breathing. It is getting later.

We prepare

for wars no longer

there. The weather

inevitable, unusual–

more this time of year

than anyone ever seed. The earth

shudders, the air–

if I did not know

better, I would think

we were living all along

a fault. How late

it has gotten . . .

Forget the weatherman

whose maps move, blink,

but stay crossed

with lines none has seen. Race

instead against the almost

rain, digging beside the monument

(that giant anchor)

till we strike

water, sweat

fighting the sleepwalking air.

POSTSCRIPTS

The world is a widow.

Storms surround us, areas

of low

& high pressure

moving through–

should be gone tomorrow.

Rain from the sky

like planes.

We pull ourselves up

from bed

or death, wander

streets like ghosts,

lost guests.

Everyones a town

with the shops shutting

down, no hours

posted. Even the radio

stays closed–only news

or fools still

believing love.

Traffic that wont move.

In the crossing, a white hearse

hanging a left.

I want to be that woman

just ahead, tapping her foot

out a car window, bare,

in time to a music

I cant quite hear.

September 2001

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Mark Shipley, March 23, 2007 (view all comments by Mark Shipley)
Kevin Young's book is named for his poem...a response to a similar poem by Robert Lowell.

Apparently, no one remembers that Robert Lowell's poem, "For the Union Dead," was a response to Allen Tate's poem, "Ode to the Confederate Dead."

A simple Google search will reveal a wikipedia entry that tells all about Tate.

Tate's own poem was an echo of earlier work with the same title by another poet. (As you will see if you read the above wiki entry.)

Strange that Young does not seem to be aware of that fact in the interview published on Powells.com, since he is a professor of poetry.
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Product Details

ISBN:
9780307264350
Publisher:
Knopf
Subject:
American - African American
Author:
Young, Kevin
Subject:
Southern states
Subject:
African Americans
Subject:
Single Author / General
Subject:
General Poetry
Publication Date:
20070109
Binding:
Hardback
Grade Level:
General/trade
Language:
English
Pages:
176
Dimensions:
8.9 x 6.15 x .9 in .85 lb

Related Subjects

Fiction and Poetry » Poetry » A to Z

For the Confederate Dead: Poems
0 stars - 0 reviews
$ In Stock
Product details 176 pages Alfred A. Knopf - English 9780307264350 Reviews:
"Review" by , "Influenced by blues and jazz, the poet here is a shape-shifter, with the technical prowess to venture just about anywhere."
"Review" by , "Young high-steps his way through brightly inventive lyrics that illuminate the spiritual richness and dirt-poor hunger of the rural Deep South, with nods to Zora Neale Hurston and a thrilling riff on Allen Ginsberg's 'America.'"
"Review" by , "Young's encyclopedic knowledge of American literature doesn't make him derivative; it intensifies and universalizes his work....Besides mourning loss, For the Confederate Dead celebrates the regenerative and enduring power of the imagination."
"Review" by , "For the Confederate Dead is a lively and excellent collection. Even when they're sad, as they often are, Kevin Young's poems make you want to tap your feet. Young's language dances and he has a wry humor that matches the sweet jazz beat of his voice. This is his fifth collection, but it has the daring and energy of a first book."
"Synopsis" by , In this passionate new collection, Kevin Young takes up a range of African American griefs and passages. He opens with the beautiful “Elegy for Miss Brooks,” invoking Gwendolyn Brooks, who died in 2000, and who makes a perfect muse for the volume: “What the devil / are we without you?” he asks. “I tuck your voice, laced / tight, in these brown shoes.” In that spirit of intimate community, Young gives us a saucy ballad of Jim Crow, a poem about Lionel Hampton's last concert in Paris, an “African Elegy,” which addresses the tragic loss of a close friend in conjunction with the first anniversary of 9/11, and a series entitled “Americana,” in which we encounter a clutch of mythical southern towns, such as East Jesus (“The South knows ruin & likes it / thataway—the barns becoming / earth again, leaning in—”) and West Hell (“Sin, thy name is this / wait—this place— / a long ways from Here / to There”).

For the Confederate Dead finds Young, more than ever before, in a poetic space that is at once public and personal. In the marvelous “Guernica,” Young’s account of a journey through Spain blends with the news of an American lynching, prompting him to ask, “Precious South, / must I save you, / or myself?” In this surprising book, the poet manages to do a bit of both, embracing the contradictions of our “Confederate” legacy and the troubled nation where that legacy still lingers.

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