Synopses & Reviews
Kevin Young follows his acclaimed exploration of the blues in Jelly Roll
with another playful riff on a vital art form, giving us a film noir in verse. Black Maria
the title is a slang term for a police van as well as a hearse is a twisting tale of suspicion, passion, mystery, and the city. Young channels the world of detective movies, picking up its lingo and dark glamour in five "reels" of poetry the adventures of a "soft-boiled" private eye, known as A. K. A. Jones, and an ingenue turned femme fatale, Delilah Redbone, who's come to town from down south ("Mama bent till dark / tending rows to send / Me to school...I wanted / To head on & hitch...strike it / Big"). We follow Jones and Delilah through a maze of aliases and ambushes, sex and suspicions, fast talk and hard luck, in Shadowtown where noir characters abound. The Killer, The Gunsel, The Hack, The Director, The Champ, and The Snitch are among the local luminaries and beautiful losers who mingle with Jones and his elusive lady as they stalk one another through the scenes of the poet's dazzling "treatment." Charming, funky, bleak, humorous, picaresque, and full of pathos, Black Maria
is brimming with the originality and stark lyricism we have come to expect from this remarkable poet.
When we met her first request:
Got a light?
I only had dark
so gave her that instead.
Ashtray full of butts
The sound of her heels down the hall
to me means reveille.
"Tough and unlucky in a rainy city or on a Hollywood back lot, poetic detective A. K. A. Jones seeks answers, dodges bullets, and drowns his sorrows as he pursues the alluring and mysterious Delilah Redbones in Young's fourth volume, a book-length sequence of linked short poems grounded in film noir scenarios and in the short, bluesy lines Young has made his signature. In just ten years since his debut, Young has become a leading poet of his generation: the splendid Jelly Roll
(2003), whose poems of erotic devotion and heartbreak imitated an encyclopedic range of musical styles, rightly landed on many year-end best-of lists. The saga of Jones, Redbones and their quirky, mostly anonymous supporting cast ('The Gunsel,' 'The Boss,' 'The Snitch') confirms Young's mastery of his syncopated verse line, his way with witty rhyme, and his facility with his chosen genre. Yet the many lyrical asides and point-of-view changes make any plot hard to grasp, a problem alleviated, but not quite solved, by prose summaries which introduce each of Young's five sections (called 'reels'). And Young's devotion to film noir atmosphere here makes it hard for the tone to vary from poem to poem: in visits to Las Vegas, the sagebrush West, even the set of a science-fiction film, their beat-up, hard-done-by gumshoe sounds more or less the same. (Feb.)
" Publishers Weekly
(Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information, Inc.)
"[Young] pulls off some of the wittiest, sexiest, and most barbed put-downs, come-ons, and linguistic sleights of hand found in contemporary poetry....Young turns cliche inside out in an ingenious celebration of improvisation in art and in life." Booklist
"[H]ighly entertaining, often dazzling and, as book reviewers like to say but rarely about contemporary poetry compulsively readable." Joel Brouwer, The New York Times Book Review
"A private eye irrigated with booze and soused by desire falls for a dangerous dame in Kevin Young's new book, Black Maria
, a noir in verse that will give Raymond Chandler
's best a run for its money." South Florida Sun-Sentinel
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