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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.
“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
—Voice Literary Supplement
“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
–Time Out New York
“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
“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
“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
– Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review
“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.”
“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