cover image Brown


Kevin Young. Knopf, $27 (176p) ISBN 978-1-5247-3254-7

Young (Bunk), director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and poetry editor of the New Yorker, reflects on the varied nature and meanings of brownness in a typically ambitious collection that honors black culture and struggle. The title sequence is the collection’s highlight; Young recalls memories of the Topeka church of his youth—“where Great/ Aunts keep watch,/ their hair shiny// as our shoes”—while addressing its intimate connection to Brown v. Board of Education. Personal, historic, and contemporary confrontations with white supremacy, such as “Triptych for Trayvon Martin,” feature prominently. In the stirring oratorio “Repast,” the voice of Mississippi barkeep, activist, and waiter Booker Wright, murdered in 1966, rings out: “I lay down and I dream about what I had// to go through with.” In more celebratory poems, Young pays homage to numerous groundbreaking black athletes and musicians, including the unheralded band Fishbone, whose “black grooves gave/ way to moans/ of horns, yelps,// bass that leapt.” And he goes big in the double sonnet crown “De La Soul Is Dead,” in which his college years mirror hip-hop’s golden age, though a tighter single crown probably would suffice. The book’s profusion of detail and consistency of form are arguably both overwhelming and necessary; Young is writing through moments of the exemplary and mundane—“we breathe,/ we grieve, we drink/ our tidy drinks”—for himself and his community alike. (Apr.)