Shelf Expression

Recommended Reading: Kevin Young's "Stones"

I’ve just finished
Stones, Kevin Young’s latest collection, and admired the concision and short lines in this book (Knopf, 2021). Young is not only the New Yorker’s poetry editor, he is also the director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. These poems are about history and grief and ancestors, and, a topic after my own heart, the South. In Young’s case, it’s southern Louisiana, where his relatives live. (“The roads here/only lately got names.”) 

My favorite work in Stones is “Speed Trap,” which you can read online at Literary Hub. It’s a found poem (or at least it looks like one), quoting roadside advertisements (“WE BUY GOLD/Soul Food Seafood/Stock Yard Café”), and Young drops in photo-like details of his own (“Stray couch wounded/beside the road”). Driving through, the reader sees the town, its pleasures ("Butts-n-Ribs") and dysfunctions (FEMA trailers, etc.), and the way the word “trap” functions as both a reference to out-of-towners who dare speed and to others, locals unable to leave for a myriad of reasons. 

Stones is well worth your time. It’s already given me some ideas for poems mixing found language with a soupçon of personal observance.


The Poetry Friday roundup for October 28th takes place at Jone Rush MacCulloch's blog.

Photo by ST.


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Thank you for the introduction to Young's book and his "Speed Trap" poem, Susan. I especially like the line, "Sodapalooza" as I am in the middle of a poetry palooza. His poem is a master class on line breaks and enjambment.

I've seen a poem one time where someone used bits of billboards for a poem. This is quite a mix, does show his homeland with a different look, doesn't it? "Best Buy caskets", wow. Thanks for the intro to the book.

I didn't know a poet was the director of the Smithsonian African American Museum. It's an amazing place. I'd love to read this book and enjoyed pondering the images in his found poem. Thanks for sharing this!

I love the poem you shared today, Susan. It is a very interesting, rambling dialogue that I think students would enjoy exploring and replicating. Thanks for sharing this.

"His poem is a master class on line breaks and enjambment. " Yes, Bridget! I feel like the poem has a lot to teach, regarding both form and content. So many surprises in the poem, like "stray couch" instead of stray cat.

Thanks for stopping by, y'all. I also recommend the New Yorker's poetry podcast; Young is the host.

This sounds fab, I'm reading Ted Kooser's THE POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL and just got through a chapter talking about creating a sense of place by dropping in detailed nouns and tiny snippets of the personal. This sounds lovely.

This is such an interesting poem... thank you for sharing it and your concise review. I am glad to know about Kevin Young and will keep my eyes open for further opportunities. Love your photo also.

Hello Susan. appreciations for the link to Mr. Stone's complete poem. Despite an unreasonable embarrassing friction I have for found poems,
this stopped me, to stay & visit with it & I think I'll be returning, too.
The boardwalk through trees in water image you selected looks a doppelganger to the Leon Sinks Trail my family & I walked at a federal forest in swampy North Florida.
Your post beckons me to I check in with Mr. Stone's recents. His nourishing food/eating anthology came my way some time back but unfortunately that was my most recent book of his, which was greatly appreciated here & also by the super-hostess I passed it along to.

[I tried to get tickets to the A-A Museum for us when I was last in D.C. but fortunately my hubby on his separate trip was let in while being a day-line hopeful, during the rain, by a kind traffic-calmer & I appreciated the sights, souns & more, vicariously thru his experience, plus via the website & other online access. Such a needed & overdue addition to The Mall.]

[Today is my first visit to Chicken Spaghetti & I appreciate the clever name & look forward to browsing here.
These days I'm infrequently at PoetryFriday, tho' I'm nourished every time I visit.
I'm Jan @ Bookseedstudio:

(I usually write too much...)

Thanks, Susan. I enjoyed the poem--wish I knew exactly what was found and what was created. Would love a peek behind the curtain! So many hints at joy/life and tragedy/death. A pungent combo.

Susan, thanks so much for the recommendation. I'm in the middle of Ted Kooser's A POETRY HOME REPAIR MANUAL -- and love the thoughts about the power of place. I will look up STONES now.

Fascinating! I'll put this one on my list for next August...if not sooner!

Thanks so much for reading, everyone! Typepad had major issues this week, and I was not able to respond until now. Jan and Karen, that photo is from a cypress swamp off the Natchez Trace in Madison County, Miss. I thought it looked close enough to a Louisiana bayou! I read Ted Kooser's MANUAL last summer, and remember liking parts of it a lot and disagreeing with other parts. I'll be danged, though, if I can remember what I disagreed with. But, yes to the power of place. So important!

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