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Kevin Young
Kevin Young
Poet, Kevin Young states that his poetry is influenced by the works of poets Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson...
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American Poet Magazine
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Books Noted: Kevin Young's Dear Darkness


Alfred A. Knopf, 2008

Although Kevin Young’s sixth collection, Dear Darkness, is addressed to the dark, the more than one hundred poems it contains are airy, bright, and filled with life. Comprised of blues songs and odes to family, food, and places, the darkness in the book is the shadow cast by the sudden death of the poet’s father, which transforms this nostalgic composite into a moving elegy. At the book’s center is "Death Letter," a mournful lyric that pleads for mercy in the aftermath of a violent death. The poem ends:

Say the thing
not the name

of the thing. Say
they are the same.

Save me.

The poet’s reverence for Langston Hughes is evident in the musical and melancholy blues poems throughout the book that find their counterpoint in odes, written in the tradition of Pablo Neruda’s Elementary Odes to commonplace things. Here, there are odes to uncles, aunts, and cousins, written with a humor that is alternately dark and goofy. His odes to food celebrate the dishes of his Louisiana family, such as black-eyed peas, gumbo, and fig preserves, each written with an intimate direct address, as if to a beloved or a family member. In "Ode to Pork," he writes: "I know you’re the blues / because loving you / may kill me—;but still you / rock me down slow / as hamhocks on the stove." The fears and thrill of childhood voiced throughout the collection are answered in his poem "Adolescence," with a poignant ending that simply advises "Wait," an ambivalence that suggests both the coming darkness of adulthood, as well as its pleasures.

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