A 1993 National Poetry Series selection, this harsh volume explores "home" as a place in the collective African American memory. Many of these poems are children's painful narratives of the rural South; one section entitled "The Spectacle" details freak show attractions from a local fair. A final section, "Beyond the Pale," moves beyond collective memory to contemporary ironies, combining the black oral tradition with strains of the dead white masters (Auden, for example): "See, in the end the tragedy is all/in the telling, not at the moment when the gator/slips out of Ched Peeling's trusty, thoroughbred/hands & gobbles down a few select/youngsters." While the poet's descriptions of poverty and suffering are vivid and moving, the poems grow stronger as they move beyond a conventional mix of nostalgia and rage to a more thoughtful and transcendent vision: "things do/not need me here, this world/dances on its own." A promising first work.-Ellen Kaufman, Dewey Ballantine Law Lib., New York
First books rarely sing with such controlled music. Young, selected for the National Poetry series by Lucille Clifton, has a distinctive and unforgettable voice, virtuosic style, and mature command of his material. From the first poem--ironically melodic quatrains recording the advertisement of a reward for escaped slaves--Young engages the material of African American history the way Yeats did Irish history and Garcia Marquez the history of Latin American economic colonization. That is, he engages and transforms it with his language and compassion. Any of these poems testifies to Young's genius. Take "How to Make Rain," an incantatory instruction for deepest prayer, with its ever-varying, rolling quasirefrain; here's one variation: "rain of our / fathers shoeless rain the devil is / beating his wife rain rain learned / early in the bones." A marvelous book, a marvelous poet.
From the Publisher
"First books rarely sing with such controlled music. Young has a distinctive and unforgettable voice, virtuosic style, and mature command of his material. Any of these poems testifies to Young's genius. A marvelous book, a marvelous poet."
"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." The Voice Literary Supplement
"Young's descriptions of poverty and suffering are vivid and moving, and the poems grow stronger as they move beyond a conventional mix of nostalgia and rage to a more thoughtful and transcendent vision." Library Journal
"A rock-solid book, something you could grab hold of." John Yau
"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