Dear Darkness: Poems
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Dear Darkness: Poems [Hardcover]

Kevin Young
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Book Description

September 9, 2008

Las Vegas, Nashville, despair, the Midwest, “Bar-B-Q Heaven” and his family’s Louisiana home: these are the American places that Kevin Young visits in his powerful, heartfelt sixth book of poetry. Begun as a reflection on family and memory, Dear Darkness became a book of elegies after the sudden death of the poet’s father, a violent event that silenced Young with grief until he turned to rhapsodizing about the food that has sustained him and his Louisiana family for decades. Flavorful, yet filled with sadness, these stunningly original odes—to gumbo, hot sauce, crawfish, and even homemade wine—travel adeptly between slow-cooked tradition and a new direction, between everyday living and transcendent sorrow.

As in his prizewinning Jelly Roll, Young praises and grieves in one breath, paying homage to his significant clan—to “aunties” and “double cousins” and a great-grandfather’s grave in a segregated cemetery—even as he mourns. His blues expand to include a series of poems contemplating the deaths of Johnny Cash, country rocker Gram Parsons, and a host of family members lost in the past few years. Burnished by loss and a hard-won humor, he delivers poems that speak to our cultural griefs even as he buries his own. “Sadder than / a wedding dress / in a thrift store,” these are poems which grow out of hunger and pain but find a way to satisfy both; Young counts his losses and our blessings, knowing “inside / anything can sing.”

Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Perhaps the most prominent African-American poet of his generation, the prolific Young (For the Confederate Dead) begins his sixth book, which gathers sets of independent short poems—some very funny, some heartbreaking, almost all in deftly enjambed, uncommonly various lines—with evocations of his childhood, at once cozy and surrounded by half-secret threats: Back/ in the day, my mother cut my afro/ every few months, bathroom layered/ with headlines proclaiming the world's end. Young then launches into odes to foods, many (but not all) of them from African-American traditions: I know you're the blues/ because loving you/ may kill me, says Ode to Pork. Other work finds lessons in country and country-rock music (On Being the Only Black Person at the Johnny Paycheck Concert). For all the humor, and all the autobiography, in this big book, Young digs deepest and sounds most powerful when he returns to the unlucky, unlovely, generalized personae of blues, who become in his hands at once a source of energy and a means for elegy: Let me be what/ dust has to be, settling// over everything, he says in the bluesy Lullaby, & I promise to dream// of new houses & old/ loves no longer. (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

Young is a fluent and bold interpreter of American culture and attitude, writing shrewd blues and droll lyrics that upend and undo catchphrases, familiar figures, and down-home habits. Prizewinning and popular with readers beyond the usual poetry aficionados, Young follows his historically oriented For the Confederate Dead (2007) with his sixth and most autobiographical collection, in which he remembers his dead, especially his recently deceased father. Looking back to his Louisiana childhood, Young finds surprising connections as he writes of stars, mosquitoes, his father’s “sweet blood,” sustenance, and funerals. Red dirt, buzzing wasps, kissing cousins, haircuts, and TV all form moiré patterns as vaporous memories are condensed into poetry. Young reaches for myth but can’t resist wit, paying hilarious tribute to aunties and uncles, dealing in double entendres, capturing the topsy-turvy, otherworldly ambience of Las Vegas. And even while deeply mourning for his father, he pulls a Neruda and writes funny, sly odes to the ordinary, focusing on food, metaphors for desire, the life force, and death’s endless consumption. --Donna Seaman

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 216 pages
  • Publisher: Knopf; 1 edition (September 9, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0307264343
  • ISBN-13: 978-0307264343
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #513,566 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Kevin Young is the author of six books of poetry, most recently Dear Darkness, named one of the Best Books of 2008 by National Public Radio's All Things Considered, and winner of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Award in poetry. His book Jelly Roll: A Blues was a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize and won the Paterson Poetry Prize. He is the editor of four other volumes, including Blues Poems, Jazz Poems, and the Library of America's John Berryman: Selected Poems. The curator of literary collections and the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library and Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University, Young lives in Boston and Atlanta.

Customer Reviews

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a rich, clear-eyed celebration of life & family March 10, 2009
It took me several weeks to build up the confidence to actually buy Kevin Young's "Dear Darkness." After all, the book is currently only available in hardcover and $27 is no small chunk of change to spend on a poetry book (especially in this bum economy).

But after wearing a hole into my copy of "To the Confederate Dead" (the fantastic book Young published previous to "Dear Darkness"), I knew I would have to suck it up and just buy the darn thing. And I can tell you know, that it is absolutely worth it.

Clocking in at nearly 200 pages, "Dear Darkness" is a beautifully hefty book, rich in tone and language. Dealing with the aftermath of his father's death, Young -- an "only son of an only son" -- takes careful pains to illuminate and celebrate everything which fills his life. This means poems about aunties, uncles and cousins, as well as odes to catfish, gumbo and sweet potato pie, alongside poetry riffing on blues songs, childhood bullies and contemporary life in the big city, among numerous other topics.

Young is able to brilliantly write about his past and his present, balancing the amber glow of nostalgia with the sharp angles of reality. His work is not without humor or without pathos, and his voice and approach is almost unrelentingly fresh and honest. Sometimes when I read poems built around a theme (of which there are many in this book), I can tell which poems are the "anchor poems" and which were just thrown into the mix to flesh out the theme. But with Young, each piece dazzles, each pieces adds depth and contrast.

"Dear Darkness" continues Young's stellar tradition of beautiful, earned, solid books of poetry, and I highly recommend this book to anyone itching for an opportunity to see their world with fresh eyes.
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4 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Full of wit, concision, and emotion February 20, 2011
This is my first exposure to Kevin Young, but what I've read is just amazing. His poems roil with wit and emotion, and often dark humor. While a lot Dear Darkness takes on death, for me personally, it is poems exploring his relationships that I keep going back to for more reads (Slow Drag Blues, for example). Young writes concisely, not wasting a word, yet playing with them all the time. The poems read very lyrically and there is a wonderful flow to them. His work is easily digestible, but not mere light weight fluff, which is for me, a winning combination.
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5.0 out of 5 stars listen to the voice of the place April 1, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Kevin Young's Dear Darkness provides the things of the past with a distinct voice and place in time. At times humorous, heartbreaking, and always sincerely honest, Young's words move with equal parts emotion and music. I recommend this book to anyone who has ever questioned their culture or tapped their foot to a steel guitar. This is the versatility of Young's verse. Wonderful words for first-time readers of poetry and scholars alike. Read this book.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Delectable! February 17, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I shared several of these poems with friends. He gets my gastric juices going and makes me want to cook, and to write poetry.
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