Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Kevin Young's Second-Person James Covey Poems

James Covey, the translator for the Amistad rebels, represents one of Kevin Young's most memorable characters. That Young is a poet says something about the extents to which poets have participated in the presentation and development of protagonists--real and imagined. In the first section of his volume Ardency, Young gives Covey a prominent role and makes it possible for readers to consider his interactions with his fellow West Africans. 

What distinguishes Young's series of Covey persona poems from those by several other poets is that Young writes several of the poems from the second-person perspective. The Covey of Young's narrative at times appears to speak directly to the Amistad rebels referring to Cinque and some of the others as "you." Young's approach also situates us--the readers--alongside the captives as Covey translates their words and experiences.

"They named you Joseph, step-father to the Lord," Covey informs Cinque in "Advent." In "Questioning," Covey asks the Mendi, "Who among you knew the Crew / split after seeing" the rebels kill the Captain? There are several others poems where Covey converses directly with "you," the Amistad rebels.

Young's use of the second-person perspective achieves at least two key results. For one, he provides readers with an opportunity to imagine and over-hear conversations between a group of captive Africans and a bilingual African who speaks English and Mendi. Aside from Young's work, the intimate bond shared between an African translator like Covey and people from his homeland has been under-explored.

The possibility that readers can envision themselves as part of the story represents another key effect or result of Young's use of second-person. The poet's narrative perspective becomes one mode of linking readers more closely to the Mendi rebels.

Related: A Notebook on the work of Kevin Young  

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