Kevin Young


For the Confederate Dead

  • 2007
  • Alfred A. Knopf
  • Hardcover, Paperback
Buy online
  • Winner, Quill Award in Poetry 2007
  • Winner, Paterson Award for Sustained Literary Achievement 2008

In this passionate 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.

Reviews & Praise

A lively and excellent collection. Even when they're sad, as they often are, Kevin Young's poems make you want to tap your feet. Young's language dances, and he has a wry humor that matches the sweet jazz beat of his voice. This is his fifth collection, but it has the daring and energy of a first book. Los Angeles Times

Ceaselessly charming, inventive, conversational yet rigorous poems. Entertainment Weekly