Rumble in the Jungle

Kevin Young

If you didn’t know     better, you might think
Muhammad was praying,not talking smack—     arms up, Ali
leans way backas if trying to catch     a glimpse
of the Almighty—he’s told no one     his plan
to rope-a-dope—to bend in whatever wind     Foreman sends
or knocks out of him.Haymakers & body     blows. The thumbs
of his old-fashioned boxing glovesupright like Ali     hopes to hitch a ride
to heaven. Instead he’s herein Zaire, stuck waiting     for the monsoon—
playing possumthrough seven rounds     till it’s time to climb & jab
his way off the ropeslike Tarzan sawing free     from a fishing net in a Saturday
matinee—swingingtill Foreman backstrokes     to the floor. Seven whole rounds
of reckoning—till a womanin a dashiki, stepping lightly,     carries the card
for the next round filledwith what now     appears omen, inevitability—
for one momentthe number 8     knocked flat
on its side—an infinity.

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Kevin  Young

Kevin Young is the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture and poetry editor of The New Yorker. He is the author of twelve books of poetry and prose, including Blue Laws: Selected & Uncollected Poems 1995-2015, long-listed for the National Book Award; and Book of Hours, a finalist for the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and winner of the Lenore Marshall Prize from the Academy of American Poets. Young’s book Bunk: The Rise of Hoaxes, Humbug, Plagiarists, Phonies, Post-Facts, and Fake News was a New York Times Notable Book and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. Distinguished Professor at Emory, Young is the editor of eight other collections and was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2016. (Author photo by Melanie Dunea)

James Brown. John Brown’s raid. Brown v. the Topeka Board of Ed. The prize-winning author of Blue Laws meditates on all things “brown” in this powerful new collection.

Divided into “Home Recordings” and “Field Recordings,” Brown speaks to the way personal experience is shaped by culture, while culture is forever affected by the personal, recalling a black Kansas boyhood to comment on our times. From “History”—a song of Kansas high-school fixture Mr. W., who gave his students “the Sixties / minus Malcolm X, or Watts, / barely a march on Washington”—to “Money Road,” a sobering pilgrimage to the site of Emmett Till’s lynching, the poems engage place and the past and their intertwined power. These thirty-two taut poems and poetic sequences, including an oratorio based on Mississippi “barkeep, activist, waiter” Booker Wright that was performed at Carnegie Hall and the vibrant sonnet cycle “De La Soul Is Dead,” about the days when hip-hop was growing up (“we were black then, not yet / African American”), remind us that blackness and brownness tell an ongoing story. A testament to Young’s own—and our collective—experience, Brown offers beautiful, sustained harmonies from a poet whose wisdom deepens with time.

“This new collection continues and deepens the poet’s lyrical exploration of the African American cultural influences who shaped his—and the nation’s—identity. Through short, spare lines that dance, chime, laugh, lament, and assert, Young creates a consciousness-in-motion, a weaving of personal and national histories that not only reanimates the past but moves forcefully into the present.”
—Fred Muratori, Library Journal

“Thrillingly quick-footed, Young’s poems are also formally intricate and fully loaded with history, protest, and emotion.”
—Donna Seaman, Booklist (starred review)

“Young is writing through moments of the exemplary and mundane—‘we breathe,/ we grieve, we drink / our tidy drinks’—for himself and his community alike . . . Personal, historic, and contemporary confrontations with white supremacy, such as ‘Triptych for Trayvon Martin,’ feature prominently.”
Publishers Weekly

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