Poet Kevin Young, regarded as one of the better versifiers of his generation, will appear at the Birmingham Public Library downtown, Tuesday, March 13, at 6:30 p.m.
His reading is the second installment in the library’s “WORD UP! The Art of the Word” poetry series on Tuesday evenings in March. Admission is free.
He is the author of seven books of poetry, including Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (Knopf, 2011). Written over a period of 20 years, Ardency is an epic interweaving of voices, stories and lamentations that combine to tell the story of the Africans who mutinied on the slave ship Amistad.
He also won, or at least been nominated, for virtually every meaningful literary prize in America and been awarded scads of grants and fellowships.
It is rather a “big deal” for the library to host Young, according to the BPL’s Haruyo Miyagawa. “The planning committee wanted to bring in one ‘headliner’ as part of the series, and [he] was our first choice,” she told Mixed Media in an email.
Young’s stuff is also accessible, according to Miyagawa. “His poems are entertaining,” she said. “You can’t say that about that many contemporary poems. Music, especially blues and jazz, are a major influence on his poetry, so his poems have a catchy rhythm.”
Miyagawa said that in Ardency, Young retells the Amistad story in libretto form. “He has a gift for storytelling,” Miyagawa said. “His poems incorporate the oral traditions of poetry – rhythm, story, the power to draw people in – so he’s a natural fit for a series that celebrates the art of spoken word.”
Young has a following among poets in Birmingham, according to Miyagawa, including Barry Marks, author of the collection Possible Crocodiles and a member of the planning committee. “He was the most vocal advocate for trying to bring Kevin here,” she said.
On March 20, attendees are invited to read their favorite poems during “My Favorite Poem,” a program modeled after one created by former U.S. Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky.
The moderator will be Irene Latham, poetry editor at the Birmingham Arts Journal and author of a novel and two poetry collections. If you wish to participate contact Latham at irene@irenelatham to reserve your spot.
The final program on March 27 features Birmingham resident Elizabeth Hughey, former recipient of the Iowa Poetry Prize.
The series began March 6 with an appearance by Atlanta poet M. Ayodele Heath.
“The series is free and open to everyone,” Miyagawa said. “I think the programs will remind people that poetry is alive and well, and it’s an art that can be enjoyed by all.”
The reading series is presented just as competition begins in the WORD UP! student poetry competition, which BPL launched with high schools in Jefferson County and which marks its fifth anniversary in April 2012.
For more information on the competition, visit www.jclc.org/wordup.asp. The web page contains video clips from previous participants.
The WORD UP! Student Poetry Slam is scheduled for Sunday, April 1, at 3 p.m., also at the downtown library.
Learn more about Young’s work at his web site, www.kevinyoungpoetry.com.
Young also has a page at www.poets.org where you can find samples of his work, interviews, and audio and video of the poet reading five poems from his collection Jelly Roll (a finalist for the National Book Award).
Follow Young on Twitter@Deardarkness.
Jesse Chambers is the editor of Weld Local and a contributing editor at Weld for Birmingham. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org.