Kevin Young


Book of Hours

  • 2014
  • Alfred A. Knopf
  • Hardcover, Paperback
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  • An NEA Big Read selection
  • Named one of 10 essential poetry titles for 2014 by Library Journal
  • Winner, Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets
  • Finalist, Kingsley Tufts Award
  • Winner, Donald Justice Award

A beautiful book of both grief and birth from the award-winning poet whose work thrills his audience with its immediate emotional impact and musical riffs.

A decade after the sudden and tragic loss of the poet's father, we witness the unfolding of his grief. "In the night I brush / my teeth with a razor," he tells us, in one of the collection's piercing two-line poems. Young captures the strange silence of bereavement: "Not the storm/ but the calm/ that slays me." But the poet acknowledges, even celebrates, life's passages, his loss transformed and tempered in a sequence describing 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 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."

Reviews & Praise

A compact daybook of grief . . . Part of the power of this new work comes from Young's having written about his father's death before. But these poems take a new approach, darker and more direct than the elegies for his father that appeared in his book Dear Darkness. It may not be right to call these new poems elegies at all, because their concern is not with the dead but with the living and what it is like to be left behind with death. The American Scholar

Young's tone is always pitch-perfect in these poems. Los Angeles Times

An impressively musical exploration of grief and endurance. . .Young wrestles with loss and joy with enviable beauty and subtlety. Publishers Weekly

If you read no other book of poetry this year, this should be the one. Atlanta Journal-Constitution

I've read plenty of books about grief and about coming through grief in my life, but I've never before encountered a book that gets it as right as Kevin Young's Book of Hours. It's one of those rare reading experiences that I recognized, even as I read it, as a book I was going to buy over and over again, to give as a gift to friends who've had that certain hole cut out of them, the loss that you can recognize from a distance, even in the happiest of times. The Stranger (Seattle, WA)

What could be better, or harder, than death and birth in one book? Young is our prolific chronicler of the state of the African-American union, but also of fatherhood, of son-hood. These poems counter the grief of the father's death with the bewildering joy of a child's birth. This is mourning with its feet on the ground—of the dead father's dogs, Young writes, "Their grief is colossal// & forgetful./ Each day they wake/ seeking his voice,//their names." He also evokes new fatherhood with all the grit: "Like the rest of us," he says to his newborn son, "You swim// In your own piss." Young has captured true adulthood between the covers of a book. Craig Morgan Teicher for National Public Radio