Kevin Young's first book, Most Way Home, was selected for the National Poetry Series and won the Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. His second book of poems, To Repel Ghosts, a "double album" based on the work of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, was a finalist for the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Young's poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and Callaloo. He is editor of the anthology Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers and the forthcoming Everyman's Library Pocket Poet anthology Blues Poems. A former Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, Young is currently Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University.
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.