Kevin Young


Black Maria

  • 2005
  • Alfred A. Knopf
  • Hardcover, Paperback
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Kevin Young follows his acclaimed exploration of the blues in Jelly Roll with another playful riff on a vital art form, giving us a film noir in verse. Black Maria—the title is a slang term for a police van as well as a hearse—is a twisting tale of suspicion, passion, mystery, and the city. Young channels the world of detective movies, picking up its lingo and dark glamour in five "reels" of poetry—the adventures of a "soft-boiled" private eye, known as A.K.A. Jones, and an ingenue turned femme fatale, Delilah Redbone, who's come to town from down south ("Mama bent till dark / tending rows to send / Me to school . . . I wanted / To head on & hitch . . . strike it / Big").

We follow Jones and Delilah through a maze of aliases and ambushes, sex and suspicions, fast talk and hard luck, in Shadowtown where noir characters abound. The Killer, The Gunsel, The Hack, The Director, The Champ, and The Snitch are among the local luminaries and beautiful losers who mingle with Jones and his elusive lady as they stalk one another through the scenes of the poet's dazzling "treatment." Charming, funky, bleak, humorous, picaresque, and full of pathos, Black Maria is brimming with the originality and stark lyricism we have come to expect from this remarkable poet.

Black Maria was staged as a play by the Providence Black Repertory Theater in winter 2007.

Reviews & Praise

Highly entertaining, often dazzling, and, as book reviewers like to say—but rarely about contemporary poetry—compulsively readable. The New York Times Book Review

Will give Raymond Chandler's best a run for its money...[A] sweet and low-down work of genius. Dallas Morning News

A postmodern Andrew Marvell, Young turns cliché inside out in an ingenious celebration of improvisation in art and in life. Booklist