For the Confederate Dead
By Kevin Young
(Knopf, Hardcover, 9780307264350, 176pp.)
Publication Date: January 9, 2007
Other Editions of This Title: Paperback
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In this passionate new collection, Kevin Young takes up a range of African American griefs and passages. He opens with the beautiful “Elegy for Miss Brooks,” invoking Gwendolyn Brooks, who died in 2000, and who makes a perfect muse for the volume: “What the devil / are we without you?” he asks. “I tuck your voice, laced / tight, in these brown shoes.” In that spirit of intimate community, Young gives us a saucy ballad of Jim Crow, a poem about Lionel Hampton's last concert in Paris, an “African Elegy,” which addresses the tragic loss of a close friend in conjunction with the first anniversary of 9/11, and a series entitled “Americana,” in which we encounter a clutch of mythical southern towns, such as East Jesus (“The South knows ruin & likes it / thataway—the barns becoming / earth again, leaning in—”) and West Hell (“Sin, thy name is this / wait—this place— / a long ways from Here / to There”).
For the Confederate Dead finds Young, more than ever before, in a poetic space that is at once public and personal. In the marvelous “Guernica,” Young’s account of a journey through Spain blends with the news of an American lynching, prompting him to ask, “Precious South, / must I save you, / or myself?” In this surprising book, the poet manages to do a bit of both, embracing the contradictions of our “Confederate” legacy and the troubled nation where that legacy still lingers.
Kevin Young is the author of four previous collections of poetry and the editor of the Library of America’s John Berryman: Selected Poems, Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets anthologies Blues Poems and Jazz Poems, and Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers. His book Jelly Roll was a finalist for the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, and won the Paterson Poetry Prize. The recent recipient of a Guggenheim fellowship and an NEA fellowship, Young is currently the Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing and curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
“Young reminds us that freedom has not been realized for everyone, but his vigorous and appealing voice encourages the hope that we may continue to understand and appreciate one another’s perspectives and dialects.” —Phoebe Pettingell, The New Leader
“Heartfelt bluntness . . . Rich with unfettered honesty . . . A confederation of losses, continuing Young’s exploration of African-American culture and history in musical form: Jazz and blues spoken here.” —Katie Peterson, Chicago Tribune