Jelly Roll: A Blues

Jelly Roll: A Blues

by Kevin Young, Kevin Young
     
 

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In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as “Stride Piano,” “Gutbucket,” and “Can-Can,” these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory

Overview

In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as “Stride Piano,” “Gutbucket,” and “Can-Can,” these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion (“To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start”), only to end up lamenting the loss of love (“No use driving / like rain, past / where you at”). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.

Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young’s voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
—Billy Collins

“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
Voice Literary Supplement

“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
—Lucille Clifton

“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
—Lorenzo Thomas

“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
–Time Out New York

“Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins . . . wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

“Splendidly inventive and evocative.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety . . . Young has daringly likened himself . . . to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison.”
–Publishers Weekly

“Intimate . . . Young’s utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words.”
–Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune

“Young maintains the essence of the blues . . . while reshaping them into vibrant form. . . If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll.”
–John Hawn, Indianapolis Star

“A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts . . . This book rocks and it rolls.”
–David Citino, Columbus Dispatch

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

The Washington Post
In his impressive third collection, Kevin Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes. — David Mills
Publishers Weekly
The careful, colloquial, lyrical Most Way Home (1995) established Young among the best-known poets of his emerging generation; this third book will satisfy many readers' long-held hopes. Despite the title, Young's new work relies not just on blues but on a plethora of musical genres; poems (almost all in short, two-line stanzas) take their titles and sometimes their sounds from older popular genres ("Dixieland" "Ragtime" and "Calypso") and classical forms ("Scherzo," "Nocturne"), bringing things up to date with "Disaster Movie Theme Music." Young matches these various models with a unity of subject: like an old-fashioned sonnet sequence writ large, the book chronicles the start, progress, and catastrophic end of a love affair. Early on, poems like "Shimmy" describe the birth of passion: "You are, lady,/ admired-secret// something kept/ afar." In "Riff," Young comes up with a precise, slow-motion polyphony: "I am all itch,/ total, since you done// been gone-zero/ sum, empty set." Despite the self-imposed, consistent limit of short lines, the verse here shows Young to be not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety: after a sonnet sequence (called "Sleepwalking Psalms") Young turns from excitement and romance to disillusion, breakups and regrets ("Joy is the mile-/ high ledge"), concluding with poems addressed to landscapes, and with an elegy for a dead male friend. Young has daringly likened himself in earlier poems and prose to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison. (Jan.) Forecast: While Young gained a reputation with poems in journals (and with his anthology Giant Steps), his sophomore effort To Repel Ghosts, a narrative poem about Jean-Michel Basquiat, was not quite a breakthrough, especially as its publisher went under. This long but reader-friendly third collection should do far better; expect strong reviews nationwide. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Though you won't find any musical notation in Young's third poetry collection, it's clear that the rhythms of traditional Delta and urban blues form the lattice against which these tightly spun lyrics, most written in couplets, are set. Young understands the blues as an effective medium for seduction and praise, yearning and loss, and while Jelly Roll pays homage to the traditional stylings of Robert Johnson and other seminal blues artists, its wry sense of humor ("Hottentot to trot/ you are not"), elliptically paced rhymes (past/ path, air/ stares), and associative freedom ("You are some sort/ of September// I look for your red car everywhere") evince a sophisticated, contemporary literary sensibility that never compromises the characteristic directness of the form. Young minimizes sexual swagger, preferring instead to explore the hazardous dimensions of emotional commitment with gritty grace and disarming candor ("Woman, knock me down,/ out, anoint-// just don't leave me lone// like God/ done, promising return"). While the collection's extended length might work against the economy of its individual poems, Young's achievement is nonetheless admirable, attesting to both the resilience of the blues and the skill of its talented practitioner.-Fred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780375709890
Publisher:
Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
02/01/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
208
Sales rank:
1,233,401
Product dimensions:
6.13(w) x 7.98(h) x 0.51(d)

Read an Excerpt

"Chorale"

Quite difficult, belief.
Quite terrible, faith

that the night, again,
will nominate

you a running mate–
that we are of the elect

& have not yet found out. That the tide

still might toss us up another–what eyes

& stars, what teeth!
such arms, alive–

someone we will, all night, keep. Not

just these spiders that skitter & cobweb,

share my shivering bed.

———————————————————————-

"Ditty"

You, rare as Georgia snow. Falling

hard. quick.
Candle shadow.

The cold spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

Nothing stays. I want to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile bathroom—all

night, a lifetime.

**Click here to send this poem as an animated ecard:
http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/ecards/young/ecard.html

———————————————————————-

"Harvest Song"

Lover you leave me autumn, tilling, a man

tending his yard,
or one not even

his own. Outskirts of town a farmer

one-armed, walks his fields into fire—my neighbor

on his knees with a razor trims his lawn. Next door

I am in the pines—
grass thirsting, and up

to here in weeds—
poison, neglect,

I have tried to forget—
nothing works. Let

the birds rabbits termites have the run

of the place, the worms,
I will take them in

———————————————————————-

"Elegy, Niagara Falls"
for Bert King, d. 1996

Here snow starts but does not stick—stay—

is not enough to cover the bare thaw—

ed ground.
Grief is the god that gets us—

good—in the end—
Here—churches let out

early—in time to catch the lunch special—at my local

hotel. Sunday—
even the bus boy has your

face. And still having heard some days later you

were dead—
I haven't caught sight—day

Meet the Author

Kevin Young’s first book, Most Way Home, was selected for the National Poetry Series and won the Zacharis First Book Award from Ploughshares. His second book of poems, To Repel Ghosts, a “double album” based on the work of the late artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, was a finalist for the James Laughlin Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Young’s poetry and essays have appeared in The New Yorker, The Paris Review, The Kenyon Review, and Callaloo. He is editor of the anthology Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers and the forthcoming Everyman’s Library Pocket Poet anthology Blues Poems. A former Stegner Fellow in Poetry at Stanford University, Young is currently Ruth Lilly Professor of Poetry at Indiana University.

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