Monday, February 7, 2011

The Design and Structure of Ardency

Like all of Young’s books, this first edition of Ardency appears in hardcover. The book is approximately 272 pages long. Most volumes of poetry appear only in paperback, and they are typically under 100 pages long.

The front and back of the dust jacket for the book includes sketched profile images of the rebels/former captives from the Amistad. The images are from A History of the Amistad Captives (1840) by John Warner Barber.

The back cover includes an excerpt from a Washington Post Book World appraisal of Young: “Intoxicating . . . Young [places] himself squarely in the African American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.” The placement of the blurb helps to nurture a view of Young as a literary descendant of Hughes.

Beyond the poems, the book includes a few extra illustrations, also from Barber’s book, including a portion of a map of West Africa; a drawing of James Covey, an African-born interpreter for the group; an image of an engraving of “the position as described by Cinqué and his companions, in which they were confined on board the slaver, during their passage from Africa;” an illustration of Cinqué; and a drawing of a “Village in Mendi, with Palm trees, &c.”
Young writes in persona verse throughout the book, adopting the voices of key figures associated with the Amistad and its aftermath. The book is divided into four main sections: “Buzzard,” told from the perspective of Covey; “Correspondence,” letters from the captives to abolitionists who sought to assist them; “Witness,” the book’s largest section, consisting of “a libretto chanted by Cinqué;” and “Afterword,” accounts from people who traveled with the former captives back to Sierra Leone.

Finally, the book includes a section of notes by Young describing several figures associated with the Amistad and case, and a brief discussion of key bibliographical sources that he used. Those sourced included John Wesley Blassingame’s Slave Testimony, William Owens’s Slave Mutiny (later renamed Black Mutiny), Mary Cable’s Black Odyssey, Muriel Rukeyser’s Willard Gibbs: American Genius, and Barber’s A History of the Amistad Captives. Young notes that Rukeyser’s book was “the very one that influenced Robert Hayden’s classic poem ‘Middle Passage.’”

All in all, the dust jacket, illustrations, notes, title page, and book keeping list in Ardency accent and the mood of the enclosed poems as documents of history.


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