Al Young,
Something About the Blues
(Sourcebooks, 2007)

Al Young can best be considered a street poet. His inspiriation is the lived life, rather than the classroom, the page or the mass media. His language is the language of conversation, plain talk, the American diction of direct speech. In "The Old Fashioned Cincy Blues," for example, he writes:

All I wanna dream about's
that NY Cincy Terminal
that summer with its intervals
of RC Cola Coolers,
tin tub baths taken
one at a time
back behind the evening stove--

It's a beautiful evocation of the past, captured in specific images, and reminding us once and for all that a poem, whatever else it might be, must be an act of communication.

In this book, Young collects all of the poems he has written that use the blues as their basis. There are poems based on blues songs, such as "Blue Monday," and poems that use encounters with artists as a springboard, such as "The Elvis I Knew Was Spiritual," and "You Catch Yourself on a Train With Yo-Yo Ma."

The astonishing thing about the collection is its range. When all of the poems center on one subject, the results can be claustrophobic, but, like many of the musicians he writes about, Young has the chops to create a variety of moods, effects and subthemes within his dominant idea.

Something About the Blues is a book that neither poetry readers nor music lovers will want to miss. As a bonus, the book contains a CD with more than an hour's worth of poems from the book, read by Young himself, often with musical accompaniment. His performance is as subtle, varied and quietly explosive as the blues.

review by
Michael Scott Cain

19 April 2008

Agree? Disagree?
Send us your opinions!

what's new