December 18, 2008

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Dear Darkness, by Kevin Young (2008, Alfred A. Knopf, 194 pages)
By Dan Szczesny dszczesny@hippopress.com

Georgia poet Kevin Young’s ambitious new collection, Dear Darkness, is a mostly fine series of short poetic odes to American culture, food and music that stems from Young’s own family and cultural history.

From Las Vegas to Nashville, from elegies to his lost father to a series of wonderful odes about the comfort food of Young’s Louisiana childhood, the National Book Award finalist manages to create a series of poems separate from one another in subject, yet thematically similar in recollection and style and all heartfelt yet not overly sweet.

The book’s best section is on food, titled “Young and Sons Bar-B-Q Heaven.” Young manages to memorialize his father by artfully remembering the fine family and regional traditions that came out of such meals as gumbo, turtle soup and fig preserves.
In “Ode to Barbeque Sauce,” Young muses that “In all the paintings of heaven / there is little // or no food – and an afterlife / minus okra // or barbeque or your arms / is useless.” It’s funny, clever and mouthwatering at the same time.

My only beef with the collection is that at nearly 200 pages, there’s a lot to absorb and Young is unable to extend the energy for the whole collection. Still, it’s hardly a bad thing to have a bounty of good writing. B+ — Dan J. Szczesny