Book of Hours

Kevin Young. Knopf, $26.95 (208p) ISBN 978-0-307-27224-9
In his eighth poetry collection, Young (Ardency) offers an impressively musical exploration of grief and endurance. Drawing its title from the illuminated manuscripts that contained psalms and prayers, the book is divided into five symbolically headed chapters. The tension between death and creation, and the poet’s struggle to contain both, fuels these short-lined poems whose delicate gears deploy insight with heartbreaking accuracy. The opener, “Domesday Book,” acknowledges the passing of the poet’s father: “Strange how you keep on/ dying—not once/ then over// & done with—” and treats grief with frank honesty and an alluring, yet almost unsettlingly steady, rhythm: “How terrible/ to have to pick up// the pen, helpless/ to it, your death/ not yet// a habit.” The subsequent sections, “The Book of Forgetting” and “Confirmation,” move past the book’s initial death into new sorrow, “What remains// besides pain?/ How to mourn what’s just/ a growing want?” Though the poems are ripe with pain, they also contain moments of reverberating joy, as when the speaker in “Expecting” hears his son’s heartbeat during a sonogram: “You are like hearing/ hip-hop for the first time—power// hijacked from a lamppost—all promise.” Young wrestles with loss and joy with enviable beauty and subtlety. (Mar.)
Reviewed on: 02/24/2014
Release date: 03/04/2014
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