|Kevin Young gives reading in Kansas City, MO. July 22, 2015|
Last month, I got a chance to catch Kevin Young giving a reading. I've followed his career for some time now, so it's a treat to catch him presenting his work. He read some of the odes from his volume Dear Darkness (2008) as well as his book Book of Hours (2014). The "odes" from one book had audience members laughing, while the poems about the death of his father drew silence and more than a few teary eyes.
In some respects, the sorrowful poems about his father are a little more typical for what people think about when they consider poetry, at least poetry from an established poetry. We think of poems about death, about love, and various emotional subjects. But humor?
Although we are aware of many funny poems and poets, somehow humor is hardly viewed as a defining feature of poetry. You could attend a poetry reading where no are jokes embedded in the poems, and you wouldn't think it strange. Humor in poetry is welcome, but seemingly not always essential to so many works.
That's not the case with Kevin Young. He's a blues poet, so he's often working those spaces between laughter and tears, between unexpected come-ups and recurring downfalls. Even in his grieving poem "Bereavement," where he's discussing his father's death, he slides in a moment of humor. He's mentioning his dad's hunting dogs and goes:
I’ve begun to think of themThe overall poem is sad, but Young gives you a moment to chuckle. It was like that during his reading. He moved us through moments of sadness and amusement.
as my father’s other sons,
as kin. Brothers-in-paw.
• Kevin Young