Saturday, January 5, 2008

A fine poem from Kevin Young

Kevin Young is an interesting but inconsistent poet who has yet to purify his style; the ghosts of those he favors make their noises in what seems to be every other poem I come across by him. But he does slam the ball from the park about as often as he swings through air. This works rather well, since the voice is stronger, more assured, the language taking on a diction that can make its influences mesh and produce a distinct set of tones:

Campbell’s Black Bean Soup

Candid, Warhol
scoffed, coined it
a nigger’s loft—

not The Factory,
Basquiat’s studio stood
anything but lofty—

skid rows of canvases,
paint peeling like bananas,
scabs. Bartering work

for horse, Basquiat churned
out butter, signing each
SAMO ©. Sameold. Sambo’s

soup. How to sell out
something bankrupt
already? How to copy

rights? Basquiat stripped
labels, opened & ate
alphabets, chicken

& noodle. Not even brown
broth left beneath, not one
black bean, he smacked

the very bottom, scraping
the uncanny, making
a tin thing sing.

The model, Frank O'Hara, suits Young's ability to catch the manic swerves of accelerated city speech and still have the precise phrasing a poem requires to be memorable. The conflations here, the puns, are electric and potent in the contradictory stances they bring together, a white art world and a young black artist trying to make a place himself amid the shilling, hype and inverse racism and still maintain his cultural identity. Would that he was this much on the beam much more often.

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