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NewsPoet: Kevin Young Writes The Day In Verse

Filed by KOSU News in Art & Life.
March 30, 2012

Today at All Things Considered we continue a project we’re calling NewsPoet. Each month we bring in a poet to spend time in the newsroom — and at the end of the day, to compose a poem reflecting on the day’s stories.

Tracy K. Smith kicked off the series, and last month Craig Morgan Teicher joined us in the studio.

Today poet Kevin Young brought us the news in verse. Young is the Atticus Haygood professor of creative writing and English at Emory University in Atlanta. His latest book is called The Grey Album: On The Blackness of Blackness. He is also the author of Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels.

Kevin Young sat down with Audie Cornish, who noted that he might just be the perfect person for this assignment: In his latest book he calls himself “a poet and a collector and now a curator.”

It certainly helped him jump into the rhythm of the day at All Things Considered. Cornish said that Young took careful notes at the morning meeting, while the staff pitched ideas. “People seemed very calm about it,” said Young, even though they had “a spy in their midst.”

But Young couldn’t rely only on his background — he had to get familiar with the day’s news as well. He explained that one segment in particular caught his eye. It was an unusual story that imagined what might happen if Texas seceded from the U.S.

“I had spent last May in Texas, living there and writing,” Young said. He built on the story’s theme and began to imagine the challenges of creating a new currency and a new anthem.

Later he combined it with a different news story — this one detailing the demise of the Canadian penny. “Somehow trade relations with Canada seemed to play in,” Young said.

When asked about the words he used in the poem, Young said he had been thinking about the idea of “cleave.” “It’s a self-antonym — a word that [also] means its opposite.” It’s a concept that is featured in his latest book, and the idea of Texas splitting fit right in.

Young also says the poem is about loss. “The death of the penny became the death of other things, and a way of mourning something perhaps more grand.”

Anthem

by KEVIN YOUNG

Life is a neardeath experience.

You can goto hell, I’m goin

to Texas. It costsmore than a penny

to make a penny.A dollar for your

thoughts, and a dream.People have to breathe

where they live.A town big

as her hair.Aren’t there more

worlds than three?Texas is finally

free, but not its lunch.Cleave can mean

to sunderor to meet. The threat

must be imminent.Look and see—

the daffodils, the rain sageupright, the high

desert, fire warnings,the scorched trees. Cloven,

clove, clave, cleavage,cleft. Every day’sa lottery. Hoods,blood. The death

of the Canadian pennymeans we all may need

to round up. Leaves,left. Bereave,

bereft.

All Things Considered’s NewsPoet is produced and edited by Ellen Silva with production assistance from Rose Friedman. [Copyright 2012 National Public Radio]

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