Book of Hours: Poems

Overview

A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems ...

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Overview

A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of his father, we witness the unfolding of grief. “In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor,” he tells us, in one of the collection’s piercing two-line poems. Capturing the strange silence of bereavement (“Not the storm / but the calm / that slays me”), Kevin Young acknowledges, even celebrates, life’s passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence about the birth of his son: in “Crowning,” he delivers what is surely one of the most powerful birth poems written by a man, describing “her face / full of fire, then groaning your face / out like a flower, blood-bloom,/ crocused into air.” Ending this book of both birth and grief, the gorgeous title sequence brings acceptance, asking “What good/are wishes if they aren’t / used up?” while understanding “How to listen / to what’s gone.” Young’s frank music speaks directly to the reader in these elemental poems, reminding us that the right words can both comfort us and enlarge our understanding of life’s mysteries.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
02/24/2014
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.)
Library Journal
02/01/2014
As its title suggests, Young's eighth book of poems (after Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels) is a vigil in verse. Two vigils, in fact: one held in bereavement for his deceased father, the other in anxious anticipation of his son's birth. In thin, almost painfully paced lyric strands as bleak as "trees/ born bare," Young monitors every emotional nuance that accompanies deep, personal loss ("How terrible/ to have to pick up/ the pen, helpless/ to it, your death/ not yet/ a habit….") and the promise of regeneration ("Tonight/ I'll broom what/ soon will be your nursery"). Rooted in pessimism ("This world is rigged/ with ruin"), the poems nevertheless channel a universe of perceptive thought on both the end and the beginning of life through a deceptively narrow tonal range that largely avoids easy sentiment, a difficult accomplishment given the familiar subject matter. VERDICT At the risk of some repetitiveness, Young challenges his large themes with a master craftsman's discipline and determination, delivering proof that poetry, like birth, is "a lengthy process/ meant to help us believe/ in the impossible."—Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780307272249
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 3/4/2014
  • Pages: 208
  • Sales rank: 131,188
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Kevin Young is the author of seven previous books of poetry, including Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, winner of a 2012 American Book Award, and Jelly Roll, a finalist for the National Book Award. He is also the editor of eight other collections, most recently The Hungry Ear: Poems of Food & Drink. Young’s book The Grey Album: On the Blackness of Blackness, won the Graywolf Nonfiction Prize, was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism, and won a PEN Open Book Award. He is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of Creative Writing and English, curator of Literary Collections and curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University.

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Read an Excerpt

Bereavement
Behind his house, my father’s dogs sleep in kennels, beautiful,
he built just for them.
 
They do not bark.
Do they know he is dead?
They wag their tails
 
& head. They beg
& are fed.
Their grief is colossal
 
& forgetful.
Each day they wake seeking his voice,
 
their names.
By dusk they seem to unremember everything—
 
to them even hunger is a game. For that, I envy.
For that, I cannot bear to watch them
 
pacing their cage. I try to remember they love best confined space to feel safe. Each day
 
a saint comes by to feed the pair
& I draw closer the shades.
 
I’ve begun to think of them as my father’s other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.
 
My eyes each day thaw.
One day the water cuts off.
Then back on.
 
They are outside dogs—
which is to say, healthy
& victorious, purposeful
 
& one giant muscle like the heart. Dad taught them not to bark, to point
 
out their prey. To stay.
Were they there that day?
They call me
 
like witnesses & will not say.
I ask for their care
& their carelessness—
 
wish of them forgiveness.
I must give them away.
I must find for them homes,
 
sleep restless in his.
All night I expect they pace as I do, each dog like an eye
 
roaming with the dead beneath an unlocked lid.
 
 
Memorial Day
Thunder knocks loud on all the doors.
 
Lightning lets you inside every house,
white flooding
 
the spare, spotless rooms.
Flags at half mast.
 
And like choirboys,
clockwork, the dogs ladder their voices
 
to the dark, echoing off each half-hid star.
 
 
Greening
It never ends, the bruise of being—messy,
untimely, the breath
 
of newborns uneven, half pant, as they find their rhythm, inexact
 
as vengeance. Son,
while you sleep we watch you like a kettle
 
learning to whistle.
Awake, older,
you fumble now
 
in the most graceful way—grateful to have seen you, on your own
 
steam, simply eating, slow,
chewing—this bloom of being. Almost beautiful
 
how you flounder, mouth full, bite the edges of this world that doesn’t want
 
a thing but to keep turning with, or without you—
with. With. Child, hold fast
 
I say, to this greening thing as it erodes and spins.

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