For the Confederate Dead

A while back during National Poetry Month, one of the daily poems Knopf sent out was by Kevin Young. I don’t recall which one it was, but it moved me enough to put his most recent collection of poetry on my list of books to read. I finally finished his For the Confederate Dead last night. Some of the poems were really hit or miss with me, but a few of them are so incredibly moving in their simplicity. Young can really pack a punch into the last stanzas of his poems.

Elegy for Miss Brooks (for Gwendolyn Brooks) ends with:
. . .What the devil
are we without you?
I tuck your voice, laced
tight, in these brown shoes.

I’m not too crazy about the “Americana” section as a whole, but there are some standouts. The poem titled Americana urged me to read it aloud. It speaks volumes in sparse phrases. My favorites:
America I have counted
all the china and none
is missing.
………………………..
America I have . . .
seen the churches keep
like crosses burning

seen the lady who lines
your huddled shore, her hand
rifle-raised,
her back turned away.

Okay, if I could post the entire poem here, I would, because it is that amazingly good. Another poem in this section, Springtime comes to the Capitol, portrays Marion Anderson’s historical performance at the Lincoln Memorial. I love how Young uses natural imagery as description: the bouquet of microphones, her throat as clear as the sky, the “bloom that begins/all along the spine.” And his For the Confederate Dead in this “Americana” section uses my favorite lines in the collection: “In my fridge only / the milk makes sense– / expires.”

Included in the collection is his series entitled “African Elegy”, which consists of poetic responses to September 11 and the death of his very close friend a year later. I wrote a poem on September 11 (and you can’t pay me to post it here) that had nowhere near the calm reflection his Postscripts does. I love this phrase of the poem and the happy niavete portrayed in it:
I want to be that woman
just ahead, tapping her foot
out a car window, bare,

in time to a music
I can’t quite hear.

His desire to go back in time is plain.

This book of poetry made me wish I had the time to analyze and analyze. I hated doing it so often in college, and this is really the first collection of poetry I’ve read since that interested me so.

Now I just have to buy my own copy . . . and keep an eye out for any upcoming work he publishes.

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Filed under poetry, reading, writing

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