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Jelly Roll: A Bluesby Kevin Young
Synopses & Reviews
In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as "Stride Piano," "Gutbucket," and "Can-Can," these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion ("To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start"), only to end up lamenting the loss of love ("No use driving / like rain, past / where you at"). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.
Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young's voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.
"Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety...Young has daringly likened himself...to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison." Publishers Weekly
"Impressive...Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes." David Mills, Washington Post Book World
"Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world....To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young." George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer
"Splendidly inventive and evocative." Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal
"Intimate...Young's utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words." Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune
"Young maintains the essence of the blues...while reshaping them into vibrant form....If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll." John Hawn, Indianapolis Star
"A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts....This book rocks and it rolls." David Citino, Columbus Dispatch
"Enormously refreshing....You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page." Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review
"Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins...wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again." Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal
Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Kevin Young's jaunty, intimate collection invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration.
About the Author
Kevin Young is the author of three previous collections of poetry and the editor of Library of America's John Berryman: Selected Poems, Everyman's Library Pocket Poets anthology Blues Poems, and Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers. His most recent book, Jelly Roll: A Blues, was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and won the Paterson Poetry Prize. A recent Guggenheim Foundation Fellow, Young is currently Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University.
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