Friday, February 6, 2015

Multiple versions of Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts

Of the more than 300 volumes of poetry by African American poets that I own, Kevin Young's To Repel Ghosts is the only one that appears in so many versions. The hardcover and paperback versions were published in 2001 by Zoland Books. A paperback "remix" of To Repel Ghosts: The Remix was published by Knopf in 2005. Since that time, there have been multiple printings of The Remix; I own a 2014 sixth printing.      

The 2001 versions include Jean-Michel Basquiat's painting To Repel Ghosts on the cover. The hardcover and paperback of To Repel Ghosts include 368 and 366 pages, respectively. The books contain 43 footnotes, an indication of Young's identity as a poet-scholar of sorts. Years later, the publication of his book The Grey Album (2012) would more clearly display his capabilities as a researcher and nonfiction writer. He had been producing essays here and there over the years though.

Zoland Books closed in 2002. Consequently, as Young's career began to flourish and To Repel Ghosts was out of print, Knopf decided to publish a new version: To Repel Ghosts: The Remix (2005).  Maybe the altered title served to slightly distinguish the Zoland Books and Knopf versions. The Remix contains 320 pages, and 32 footnotes.

I've studied Young's career for years now. It's not enough to say that I've enjoyed the poems. I have, but I've also been intrigued by the material production of his books, which he and his publisher seem to view as integral to the overall vision of the project. That's especially true from To Repel Ghosts onward.

Young's first book Most Way Home (1995), published by William Morrow and Company, contains 100 pages. That was an average size for a volume of poetry then and  now. However, after that, Young began producing books that were much longer.

2001: To Repel Ghosts is 368 pages.
2003: jelly roll is 208 pages.
2005: Black Maria is 256 pages.
2007: For the Confederate Dead is 176 pages. 
2008: Dear Darkness is 216 pages.
2011: Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels is 272 pages.
2014: Book of Hours is 208 pages.

To Repel Ghosts remains his lengthiest project, but really it set the tone for Young's ambitions. Well, that and that volume showcased something notable short. Beginning with To Repel Ghosts, we began to see those short lines, ampersands, and dashes that have now become signature features of Young's work. We didn't see that in Most Way Home.
The covers of To Repels Ghosts (2001) and To Repel Ghosts: The Remix (2005, 2014) make it fairly easy to see the differences at a glance. But it's possible to overlook the subtle difference between the 2005 and 2014 printings. They're both 320 pages, but the 2005 version is a little thicker than the 2014 printing.

To Repel Ghosts: The Remix, with the 2005 edition on the bottom, a 2014 sixth printing on top 

We're also in much more of a digital world now. A note for the 2014 printing alerts you to the site: Also, in 2005, Young was the author of 4 collections of poetry; when the 2014 was printed, he was the author of 6. With the publication of Book of Hours, he's the author of seven volumes. If we view To Repel Ghosts (2001) and To Repel Ghosts: The Remix (2005) as different books, then we'd say that Young is the author of 8 volumes.

I'll eventually write more about the design of all of Young's books, which is saying a lot since he's so prolific, and his publisher tends to produce hardcover and paperback versions of his volumes. As I've noted before, Knopf has done really well with Hughes and Young.    

Kevin Young


lauravrana48 said...

Just came back to this old post in wrapping up revisions on that article manuscript I mentioned about black poetry and notes/paratext, as I so often come back to your blog posts as hugely informative - thanks again for reminding me of the importance of To Repel Ghosts in tracing that recent history. Very minute point to contribute here. There are not 116 and 292 footnotes respectively to the two versions: there are 32 and 43 respectively, so still certainly substantial (and still a key distinction between the Zoland Books and Knopf versions), but not quite as expansive and extensive as you're suggesting. The notes are not traditionally numbered: each one opens with the page number of the poem to which it refers, rather than proceeding through a sequence of note #1, note #2, etc. - hence the understandable confusion. I find that choice of how to number the notes interesting, because it suggests usability/reader-friendliness in a way that traditional academic footnote format conventionally does not to many readers. He doesn't place the footnote markers intrusively in the body of the poems themselves and instead leaves them totally separate in the liner notes, but then makes it easy to flip right back to the page number referenced - kind of different from some of the other annotating practices we're seeing!

H. Rambsy said...

Snap. Brain freeze on that. Thanks for the heads up.