Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995–2015

Kevin Young. Knopf, $30 (608p) ISBN 978-0-385-35150-8
In this extensive and impressive selected volume that also includes a generous helping of unpublished poems, poet and critic Young, winner of the 2015 Lenore Marshall Prize for Book of Hours, puts his characteristically succinct narrative lines on full display as he crafts voices that speak to the pleasures and pains of African-American lives, including his own. Young demonstrates a deft skill for persona, taking on the voices of such historical figures as Jack Johnson, the great 20th-century boxer, and Cinque, the leader of the Amistad rebels. Music, especially blues, jazz, and hip-hop, moves as both an undertone and overtone throughout the book. Young shows his mastery of form throughout—particularly in “Urgent Telegram to Jean-Michel Basquiat”—while his love poems display a tremendous ear and the talent for turning stock images into moving metaphors: “Even a bird,/ a dog, got him a cage// he can bark/ all night in, or sing.” Some poems feel more concerned with flexing their muscles than engaging the reader, and metaphors can seem redundant (not altogether surprising, given Young’s prolific output), especially in a series of odes to foods. Yet Young also offers stunning confessional lines that will move the reader with their lyrical starkness, as in a heartrending series of elegies for his father: “The day will come// when you’ll be dead longer/ than alive.” (Feb.)
Reviewed on: 02/15/2016
Release date: 02/02/2016
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 608 pages - 978-0-345-80741-0
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