Synopses & Reviews
“It is exhilarating to be invited into a world so large and muscular, so rooted in history, a world where so much is at stake.”—Brigit Pegeen Kelly, National Poetry Series judge
A biography in poems, leadbelly examines the life and times of the legendary blues musician from a variety of intimate perspectives and using a range of innovative poetic forms. A collage of song, culture, and circumstance, alive and speaking.
Tyehimba Jess’ numerous awards include fellowships from the NEA and the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown. A native of Detroit, he is a proud alumnus of the Chicago Green Mill Slam teams and Cave Canem. His first nonfiction book is African American Pride: Celebrating our Achievements, Contributions, and Enduring Legacy (Citadel Press, 2003).
"Jess' debut, an addictive amalgamation of approaches reminiscent, in its way, of Dos Passos' 1919, tells the story of Huddie William Ledbetter and his passage to becoming the blues legend, Leadbelly. Told through many voices, from his devoted wife Martha to folklorist John Lomax and his quest to 'stake his claim on the breath of each Black / willing to open his mouth and spit out / southern legend's soiled roots,' the collection proceeds by call and response, each negation an affirmation of something else, like trading 'dry psalms...for cool cigar smoke.' In the telling of one life, a society is exposed-racist, well-meaning, violent, forgiving. And yet while the classic binaries-black and white, man and woman, powerful and powerless-play their part, the collection's strength lies in its contradictory forms; from biography to lyric to hard-driving prose poem, boast to song, all are soaked in the rhythm and dialect of Southern blues and the demands of honoring one's talent. Readers will notice these poems teach us how to read them, but more so, these poems demand performance, recalling that space beyond the page: the stage. Jess has crafted this collection in the logic of its subject, that is, rhythm and performance, proving that a good poem-slam or not-neither needs nor abandons its poet once on the page." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
National Poetry Series winner makes compelling poetry from the tumultuous life of blues singer Leadbelly.
Poetry. African American studies. This gripping collection examines the life and times of the legendary blues musician Leadbelly from a variety of intimate perspectives, using a range of innovative poetic forms. A biography in poems, Leadbelly becomes a collage of song, culture and circumstance, alive and speaking. "I suspect this book, about one man's journey through the blues, is as close as a book of poetry may get to describing what it means and what it costs to have this music in your veins"--Cornelius Eady.
About the Author
Tyehimba Jess' first book of poetry, leadbelly, was a winner of the 2004 National Poetry Series. Jess was recognized as one of 2005's eighteen debut poets to watch by Poets and Writers magazine. leadbelly was voted one of Black Issues Book Review's three best poetry books of 2005. A Cave Canem, Green Mill Slam Team, and NYU alumni, Jess was a 2004-5 Winter Fellow at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center. He won an Illinois Arts Council Artist Fellowship in Poetry for 2000-2001. He is an Assistant Professor of Creative Writing at University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.