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3.6 out of 5 stars
Jelly Roll
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VINE VOICEon September 16, 2014
central to these poems is how they are imbued with the blues even when they’re entitled PLAINSONG, RAMBLE or JUBILEE. these poems are smarter than they look with their truncated couplets, ragged and terse, lyrical verses which leave a humming in your head.

and young keeps them coming, like the old comedians of one liners, henny youngman, jimmy durante, who had ‘a million of em,’ and nipsy russell, who ishmael reed credited with developing his own poetry form.

and like the blues, these poems express the loss of some woman’s love. as billy eckstine used to sing the lyrics by fatha hines’: jelly jelly jelly, jelly stays on my mind.

with word reversals, young pays homage to berryman and his transformative grammar; broken words at the end of the line call to mind cummings; and occasionally young’s tone touches the voice from ishmael reed’s first collections of blues poems.

from the book, a couple of poems at selected at random:

VESPERS

Along this strange shore
I am alone with only

the cruelty of song—
night’s chant is

around us, or me—
the hum of her

gone. Alone even
God is no good—

no hymn can take her
off my hands, pressed, kneel-

ed here in front
of this altar television—

flickering—finally
even sleep has left

me stranded, unbottled,
flotsam swaying wind.

GUTBUCKET

I want, like
water, you—

something wet
gainst the back

of my throat. Carry
me out

reel me in
I been down

this well too long--

i bought this book at young’s reading at the sunken garden here in connecticut, inscribed by the author with his scrawl:
For Case Quarter, Peace!
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on December 11, 2012
I am a new found Kevin Young fan, but I now know that I will be one for life. I discovered Jelly Roll at my college's library after I was initially seeking another one of Young's novels. I stumbled upon this and noticed the vibrant hardcover and couldn't resist looking through it and then checking it out. I read a good 90% of this book before buying my own copy. I have yet to finish it with school work piling up, but I am certain that I will finish it before Christmas and will be soon seeking another one of Young's books. There is something addictive about his style of poetry than makes you want to continue on for as long as you can until you have to pull yourself away in order to move on with the day. I also loved the theme that was present in this book, even with minimal words, you can still feel the passion behind them. I hope to meet Young one day until then I hope to get my hands on more of his work.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on April 19, 2006
I read this book in one sitting on an airplane and I was mesmerized. I kept looking to my right to see if the woman next to me was peeking over my shoulder. The poems were so good I thought she should have been able to feel it and want to read, too.
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on May 28, 2014
It's always interesting to see one art "translated" by another art. In these poems KY goes back into time then hands us a scooped up array from a past master.
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on May 3, 2015
I'm so glad I invested in this collection that I studied for a writing exercise in college. Kevin Young had an event at 92Y and I got his autograph :)
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2005
The poetry of Kevin Young in "Jelly Roll: A Blues" is inextricably, and purposefully, linked with the Blues music tradition. Significantly, on the title page, under "Jelly Roll [A Blues]" is written "composed and arranged by Kevin Young," as if this were a book of musical compositions. From the old-school gramophone on the cover to the dozens of music themed poem titles, Young, as blatantly as he can, stamps his collection with the label of "Blues Poetry", encouraging readers to appreciate the musicality of his verse and placing his work in the tradition of black Blues Poets.

While many of Young's poems exhibit a flare for fresh language and a playful musicality, as a whole, "Jelly Roll [A Blues]" feels monotonous. Most of Jelly Roll's poems are about sex or love, and almost every one of them follows the same repetitive two-line stanza form. After the first twenty pages or so of this enormous, one hundred ninety page book, I found myself wondering, with each new poem, if I had already read one exactly like it a few pages ago.

There are moments throughout the book--words, images, sounds--that are brief bursts of beautiful or interesting. If the collection was cut to about one third or one fourth of its current size, then perhaps those moments would not be drowned out by the sense of monotony and repetition that the two-line form creates.

By calling so much attention to the genre of his poems, he boldly invites comparison between himself and early Blues Poets such as Langston Hughes and Sterling Brown. However, his work, at this point, does not live up to his hype.
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4 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on July 2, 2003
... I liked JELLY ROLL, at least it's brief. Liked it way better than that Basquiat mess. Too long, too pretentious, though there were some gorgeous moments, too. But give me the art any day. After reading a few of the poems, you got the sense that the author was repeating himself just to hear himself. In JELLY ROLL, he seems to take his time, be more respectful with his art. And since when does a Harvard degree make you stepchild to the blues? Let a brother flex or something!
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on January 23, 2003
Put this book next to his previous "To Repel Ghost" & readers have a solid sense of the aesthetic range Kevin Young aspires to. These poems sing, they signify, cry & dance with a Morrisonian spectrum of emotion, tuning into the full complexity of Blues. The book, its form, are as informed as they are playful & experimental--the voice confident yet not afraid to examine itself, and chuckle.
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4 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on February 3, 2003
Sorry one of the previous "reviewers" apparently hasn't ever read good poetry before, but Jelly Roll is the real deal: smart, savvy, really original yet totally accesible. Young here solidifies his reputation as one of America's hottest poets to check for. And it's a gorgeous, gorgeous book to boot!
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5 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on September 15, 2003
I liked quite a few of the poems in this book. Unfortunately, it's way too long. The weak poems water down the strong ones. If the book's length had been shortened by 1/3 or 1/2, the whole would be stronger than the sum of its parts.
What's with the fixation on an author's bio? Let it go.
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