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Kevin Young on Fresh Air
His recent visit coincided with the publication of his newest book of poems, Book of Hours. In Book of Hours, Kevin Young reacts to his son’s birth and his father’s death. Listen to Young’s conversation with Fresh Air’s Terry Gross at NPR. We’ll excerpt a few interview highlights here. Look forward to listening!
On his poem “Charity,” about getting his father’s dry cleaning after his death and giving his clothes to charity
I wanted him to be whole again. Obviously I couldn’t have him here again, but I wanted all those parts of him, almost like [Egyptian god of the dead] Osiris, or something, gathering all of those pieces of the dead and putting them back together. It seemed somehow important, if only for the act. Of course, I gave them … away, and that was kind of also another point, to have them live on, a bit like we all wish our loved ones who are no longer with us might.
I really wanted to capture … the blues; the way the form of the blues fights the feeling of the blues in the way that the kind of rhyme in the poem fights this chaotic feeling. And even words like “colossal” and “forgetful,” they don’t exactly rhyme but they really have this kind of … connection with the consonants in the poem. And I also wanted that kind of repetition, that feeling of sameness, of dailiness, of anticipation, even — which is what I think rhyme can create.
On writing while mourning a miscarriage
I think the hardest thing, really, is trying not to write. There’s a real desire as a poet to make a poem and you’re almost just writing for survival right after. You don’t know anything else.
It’d be like a swimmer: You’d go for a long swim — it’s what you know. At the same time, you know you’re not going to achieve something. At least I felt that way.
It really wasn’t until later [when] I wrote some poems, as I said, that kind of broke the dam of that. … They were a way of looking to the side. But to write directly about it, it really took some time.