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Tim Wood reviews Book of Hours, by Kevin Young.
Book of Hours
Knopf, $26.95 (cloth)
More than 180 pages long, Kevin Young’s Book of Hours comprises four “books”—“(Domesday Book),” “(The Book of Forgetting),” “(The Book of the Body),” and “(Book of Hours)”—with an interlude, “(Confirmation),” bisecting the volume. Visually buried and aurally silent, the parenthetical titles evoke what W.E.B. DuBois called “the unvoiced longing toward a truer world.” Grief after the sudden death of Young’s father pervades the poems, while “(Confirmation),” a surprising and necessary celebration of birth midway through, holds space for life within the encroachments of profound loss. Yet this interlude becomes another kind of sublime keening when read in concert with the other books: sedulous charting of the birth process—“Expecting,” “Ultrasound,” “First Kick,” “Quickening,” “Crowning,” “Rooting,” “Beasting,” “Teething”—resonates with the experience of burying the dead. A slimmer volume might convey these attitudes of anguish and sorrow more acutely, but by invoking the tradition of medieval devotional books, Book of Hours attempts to keep time, to measure an incessant dailyness threatening to give way to eternity: “The day will come // when you’ll be dead longer / than alive—” (“Anniversary”). A daybook for sleepless nights, the collection is an attempt at recording (book of hours), reincarnating (book of the body), remembering (book of forgetting), reckoning (Domesday book), and finding confirmation of ongoing life. Asterisks, enjambments, dashes, juxtapositions, and repetitions break a seemingly seamless narrative into the holler and song of the blues.
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