Dear reader, life is too short for crap books.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Poetry Noir: Black Maria by Kevin Young

Black Maria: Poems by Kevin Young

Like Jessica Seinfeld sneaking spinach into her kids' brownies, Kevin Young has tricked me into reading contemporary American poetry with the kind of page-turning delight I usually reserve for my sleazy crime novels.

As any Tom Waits fan can tell you, Black Maria ("rhymes with 'pariah'") is slang for either a hearse or the paddywagon. Young's collection is a film noir in five "reels" of verse, featuring the misadventures and near-misses of a private eye named AKA Jones and Delilah Redbone, his femme fatale, a struggling actress who's fallen in with bad company.

One of my favorite writers, Megan Abbott, has said some interesting things about the problem of writing noir today when all the tropes of the genre approach parody, kitsch, or cliche. Through his collection, Young provides an interesting solution to the problem. The language of noir has been trodden into a soft-boiled mush, but by placing that language into verse, it once again reverberates with the melodramatic heft that makes classic noir work so well.

The couplet form that Young prefers is particularly well-suited to a genre that milks one-liners and terse, staccato dialogue for all they're worth. And like most of my favorite noir films, the caper itself is less important than individual scenes, or in this case, lines.

A few of my favorites:

I've given, like gin
Her up, again


If despair had a sound
it would be: DO NOT DISTURB

If despair has a sound
it's the muffled, raised

Voices of the pair next door
who've lived here

In One-Star Manor forever
yet still pay by the week

--Love's an iffy lease--


He'd taught me how

to fall, to cry
on cue, & now

that's all I do.

It's a smoldering, badass read, and really, when was the last time someone said that about a collection of poetry?

1 comment:

Comrade Dave said...

This is totally related to a few posts back, but I haven't checked in for a while:


Welcome to this side of three-oh!