Kevin Young: A Voice of Many Generations

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Kevin Young, author of “Brown” and The New Yorker’s poetry editor. YANNICK PETERHANS / FOGHORN

After a typical Thursday of long, back-to-back classes, I was exhausted. Gravity felt like a nuisance honing in on my eyelids as I was walking over to Fromm to see award-winning poet and poetry editor Kevin Young from the The New Yorker speak on Sept. 20.

When I arrived, the room was packed. I looked around and saw students waiting eagerly with copies of his books — “Brown” being his most popular — in their laps and excitement plastered across their faces. For such a calm, sophisticated event, the energy was overwhelming. This man was obviously a highly respected and admired individual, and I couldn’t help but get a little excited myself, despite my exhaustion.

An introduction by Master of Fine Arts in writing Professor D.A. Powell managed to bring even more life into the room.  

“His poems are muscular, breathing bodies, resurrections of place and person, brought to life anew in the short, quick lines that dance and tumble down the page like kids wrestling, lovers twirling, sunlight glinting over the surface of a river… I have been laid out by these poems,” Powell said. I was now on the edge of my seat, waiting to hear if these poems lived up to these words.

Powell’s words were spot-on.

As Young stood behind the podium, his voice, his way of speaking — even his pauses — resonated throughout the entire room. He spoke on heavy subjects, including his childhood, being a father and racism with such palpable emotion, but still managed to fill moments of silence with humor, sending airy laughs echoing around the room. Young swayed with his words, giving the the sense that he controlled them, yet they simultaneously overcame him. It was clear that he felt every emotion attached to each individual word as he read them, connecting his sentences and sewing them into passionate statements with such a fierceness that I could feel the bustling mix of insects between my palms and could almost sense the weight of the world on my shoulders.

Young’s ability to reach into the past and create masterpieces sets an example for USF students who desire to take their experiences and turn them into something beautiful — whether that be art, charity or just a successful future. Young’s message teaches us that our history and our values set us apart from the hate and intolerance in this world upon which we can make an impassioned, powerful impact.

One of his lines particularly struck me: when speaking about growing up and being with his friends, he said, “Nobody, nobody, was dead, yet.” He repeated this line multiple times. Based on recent displays of racism, such as the Charlottesville riots and the number of unjustified murders of innocent African Americans, this line left an impact felt around the room. Like music, his message flowed with a passion that made you feel the emotion in his words.

His poetry made me review my own scars and passions and triumphs and inspired me to want to create a poem that flows off the tips of my fingers in an equally satisfying way, reminiscent of the emotions his poems express.

Young said the message he wants to send to the youth who read his poetry is, “History is alive, poetry is alive, and the archive is alive and growing.”

Couldn’t have phrased it better myself.

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