Kevin Young


Jelly Roll: a blues

  • 2003
  • Alfred A. Knopf
  • Hardcover, Paperback
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  • Winner, Paterson Poetry Prize
  • Finalist, National Book Award
  • Finalist, Los Angeles Times Book Prize

In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as "Stride Piano," "Gutbucket," and "Can-Can," these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion ("To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start"), only to end up lamenting the loss of love ("No use driving / like rain, past / where you at"). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.

Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young?s voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.

Reviews & Praise

Irresistible... Young's short, snappy poems...swing, shimmy, jive, and jump off the page... Young's language is gorgeous and supple and deceptively simple. He plays off sound and rhythm the way few poets do—like Dylan Thomas or like the great Seamus Heaney... The poems in Jelly Roll should be required reading. Madison Capital Times

Like any great blues, Young's is universal. Time Out New York

Kevin Young has already conquered the heights of the poetry world... To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young. The Philadelphia Inquirer

Impressive...Young [places] himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes... Intoxicating. The Washington Post Book Review