Jelly Roll

A Blues

Look inside
Paperback
$18.00 US
6.07"W x 7.94"H x 0.55"D  
On sale Feb 01, 2005 | 208 Pages | 978-0-375-70989-0
| Grades 9-12 + AP/IB
In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as “Stride Piano,” “Gutbucket,” and “Can-Can,” these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion (“To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start”), only to end up lamenting the loss of love (“No use driving / like rain, past / where you at”). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.

Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young’s voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.


“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
—Billy Collins

“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
Voice Literary Supplement

“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
—Lucille Clifton

“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
—Lorenzo Thomas

“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
Time Out New York

“Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins . . . wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
– Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

“Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety . . . Young has daringly likened himself . . . to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison.”
Publishers Weekly

“Intimate . . . Young’s utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words.”
–Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune

“Young maintains the essence of the blues . . . while reshaping them into vibrant form. . . If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll.”
–John Hawn, Indianapolis Star

“A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts . . . This book rocks and it rolls.”
–David Citino, Columbus Dispatch
© Maciek Jasik
KEVIN YOUNG is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He previously served as the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Young is the author of fourteen books of poetry and prose, including BrownBlue LawsSelected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015Book of Hours, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Jelly RollA Blues, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry; Bunk, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Grey Album, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the PEN Open Book Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. The poetry editor of The New Yorker, Young is the editor of nine other volumes of poetry, most recently, the acclaimed anthology African American Poetry250 Years of Struggle & Song. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. He lives in Washington, DC. View titles by Kevin Young
"Chorale"

Quite difficult, belief.
Quite terrible, faith

that the night, again,
will nominate

you a running mate–
that we are of the elect

& have not yet
found out. That the tide

still might toss us up
another–what eyes

& stars, what teeth!
such arms, alive–

someone we will, all
night, keep. Not

just these spiders
that skitter & cobweb,

share my shivering bed.

-----------------------------------------------

"Ditty"

You, rare as Georgia
snow. Falling

hard. quick.
Candle shadow.

The cold
spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

Nothing stays. I want
to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile
bathroom--all

night, a lifetime.

**Click here to send this poem as an animated ecard:
http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/ecards/young/ecard.html

-----------------------------------------------

"Harvest Song"

Lover you leave me
autumn, tilling, a man

tending his yard,
or one not even

his own. Outskirts
of town a farmer

one-armed, walks his fields
into fire--my neighbor

on his knees with a razor
trims his lawn. Next door

I am in the pines--
grass thirsting, and up

to here in weeds--
poison, neglect,

I have tried to forget--
nothing works. Let

the birds rabbits
termites have the run

of the place, the worms,
I will take them in

-----------------------------------------------

"Elegy, Niagara Falls"
for Bert King, d. 1996

Here snow starts
but does not
stick--stay--

is not enough
to cover
the bare thaw--

ed ground.
Grief is the god that gets us--

good--in the end--
Here--churches
let out

early--in time
to catch the lunch
special--at my local

hotel. Sunday--
even the bus
boy has your

face. And still
having heard
some days later you

were dead--
I haven't caught
sight--day
  • NOMINEE | 2003
    National Book Awards
“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
—Billy Collins

“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
Voice Literary Supplement

“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
—Lucille Clifton

“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
—Lorenzo Thomas

“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
–Time Out New York

“Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins . . . wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review


“Splendidly inventive and evocative.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety . . . Young has daringly likened himself . . . to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison.”
–Publishers Weekly


“Intimate . . . Young’s utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words.”
–Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune

“Young maintains the essence of the blues . . . while reshaping them into vibrant form. . . If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll.”
–John Hawn, Indianapolis Star

“A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts . . . This book rocks and it rolls.”
–David Citino, Columbus Dispatch

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

About

In this jaunty and intimate collection, Kevin Young invents a language as shimmying and comic, as low-down and high-hearted, as the music from which he draws inspiration. With titles such as “Stride Piano,” “Gutbucket,” and “Can-Can,” these poems have the sharp completeness of vocalized songs and follow a classic blues trajectory: praising and professing undying devotion (“To watch you walk / cross the room in your black / corduroys is to see / civilization start”), only to end up lamenting the loss of love (“No use driving / like rain, past / where you at”). As Young conquers the sorrow left on his doorstep, the poems broaden to embrace not just the wisdom that comes with heartbreak but the bittersweet wonder of triumphing over adversity at all.

Sexy and tart, playfully blending an African American idiom with traditional lyric diction, Young’s voice is pure American: joyous in its individualism and singing of the self at its strongest.


“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
—Billy Collins

“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
Voice Literary Supplement

“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
—Lucille Clifton

“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
—Lorenzo Thomas

“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
Time Out New York

“Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins . . . wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
– Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

“Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety . . . Young has daringly likened himself . . . to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison.”
Publishers Weekly

“Intimate . . . Young’s utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words.”
–Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune

“Young maintains the essence of the blues . . . while reshaping them into vibrant form. . . If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll.”
–John Hawn, Indianapolis Star

“A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts . . . This book rocks and it rolls.”
–David Citino, Columbus Dispatch

Author

© Maciek Jasik
KEVIN YOUNG is the Andrew W. Mellon Director of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture. He previously served as the director of the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture. Young is the author of fourteen books of poetry and prose, including BrownBlue LawsSelected & Uncollected Poems, 1995–2015Book of Hours, winner of the Lenore Marshall Poetry Prize from the Academy of American Poets; Jelly RollA Blues, a finalist for both the National Book Award and the Los Angeles Times Book Prize for Poetry; Bunk, a New York Times Notable Book; and The Grey Album, winner of the Graywolf Press Nonfiction Prize and the PEN Open Book Award, a New York Times Notable Book, and a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award for criticism. The poetry editor of The New Yorker, Young is the editor of nine other volumes of poetry, most recently, the acclaimed anthology African American Poetry250 Years of Struggle & Song. He is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Letters, and was named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2020. He lives in Washington, DC. View titles by Kevin Young

Excerpt

"Chorale"

Quite difficult, belief.
Quite terrible, faith

that the night, again,
will nominate

you a running mate–
that we are of the elect

& have not yet
found out. That the tide

still might toss us up
another–what eyes

& stars, what teeth!
such arms, alive–

someone we will, all
night, keep. Not

just these spiders
that skitter & cobweb,

share my shivering bed.

-----------------------------------------------

"Ditty"

You, rare as Georgia
snow. Falling

hard. quick.
Candle shadow.

The cold
spell that catches

us by surprise.
The too-early blooms,

tricked, gardenias blown about,
circling wind. Green figs.

Nothing stays. I want
to watch you walk

the hall to the cold tile
bathroom--all

night, a lifetime.

**Click here to send this poem as an animated ecard:
http://www.randomhouse.com/knopf/ecards/young/ecard.html

-----------------------------------------------

"Harvest Song"

Lover you leave me
autumn, tilling, a man

tending his yard,
or one not even

his own. Outskirts
of town a farmer

one-armed, walks his fields
into fire--my neighbor

on his knees with a razor
trims his lawn. Next door

I am in the pines--
grass thirsting, and up

to here in weeds--
poison, neglect,

I have tried to forget--
nothing works. Let

the birds rabbits
termites have the run

of the place, the worms,
I will take them in

-----------------------------------------------

"Elegy, Niagara Falls"
for Bert King, d. 1996

Here snow starts
but does not
stick--stay--

is not enough
to cover
the bare thaw--

ed ground.
Grief is the god that gets us--

good--in the end--
Here--churches
let out

early--in time
to catch the lunch
special--at my local

hotel. Sunday--
even the bus
boy has your

face. And still
having heard
some days later you

were dead--
I haven't caught
sight--day

Awards

  • NOMINEE | 2003
    National Book Awards

Praise

“It is one thing to acknowledge that the blues are a kind of poetry, but another to produce a book of authentic poetry that constitutes a new kind of blues. Tender, sassy, and just plain cool, the poems in Kevin Young’s Jelly Roll uniquely twine together the roots of both music and language. You can almost hear the three chords in the background.”
—Billy Collins

“In Young’s alchemy, succulent scraps are gathered from daily life, distilled, and emerge, finally, as portable nuggets of home, carried wherever the poet may travel.”
Voice Literary Supplement

“This poet’s gift of storytelling and understanding of the music inherent in the oral tradition of language re-creates for us an inner history which is compelling and authentic and American.”
—Lucille Clifton

“As a poet, Young is as dazzlingly agile and as hard-hitting as Jack Johnson in his prime.”
—Lorenzo Thomas

“Young takes the great African-American tradition of speaking the pain of love and tosses it gracefully into the air, flips it, twists it, catches it and sets it on its feet again . . . the poems [are] uncannily filled with wit and self-awareness, alive to their very bones, sexy and sad and true . . . Like any great blues, Young’s is universal.”
–Time Out New York

“Young has created a joyful and sorrowing and very funny narrative of love found and lost and selfhood ruefully gained amid the ruins . . . wonderful, linguistically inventive poems in which the old is made new again.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review


“Splendidly inventive and evocative.”
–Fredric Koeppel, Memphis Commercial Appeal

“Young [is] not only a terrific love poet but one of real emotional variety . . . Young has daringly likened himself . . . to Langston Hughes: this versatile lyric tour de force may well justify the ambitious comparison.”
–Publishers Weekly


“Intimate . . . Young’s utilitarian use of language is often amazing in its ability to convey so much with so few words.”
–Regis Behe, Pittsburgh Tribune

“Young maintains the essence of the blues . . . while reshaping them into vibrant form. . . If blues musician Robert Johnson had collaborated with haiku master Basho, the result might have been Jelly Roll.”
–John Hawn, Indianapolis Star

“A rollicking book of poems filled with calls, hollers and shouts . . . This book rocks and it rolls.”
–David Citino, Columbus Dispatch

“Impressive . . . Young uses the blues as a template, fusing popular music and black vernacular and thereby placing himself squarely in the African-American poetic tradition pioneered by such writers as Langston Hughes.”
–David Mills, Washington Post Book World

“Kevin Young has, at age 32, already conquered the heights of the poetry world . . . To its tradition of strong American poets, from Emerson to Eliot to Ashbery, Harvard College can now add Young.”
–George Held, Philadelphia Inquirer

“Enormously refreshing . . . You can hear the sound of this voice alive on the vivid page.”
–Mark Jarman, The Hudson Review

Books for LGBTQIA+ Pride Month

In June we celebrate Pride Month, which honors the 1969 Stonewall riots in Manhattan and highlights the accomplishments of those in the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, and Asexual + (LGBTQIA+) community, while recognizing the ongoing struggles faced by many across the world who wish to live as their most authentic selves. Here is

Read more

PRH Education High School Collections

All reading communities should contain protected time for the sake of reading. Independent reading practices emphasize the process of making meaning through reading, not an end product. The school culture (teachers, administration, etc.) should affirm this daily practice time as inherently important instructional time for all readers. (NCTE, 2019)   The Penguin Random House High

Read more

PRH Education Translanguaging Collections

Translanguaging is a communicative practice of bilinguals and multilinguals, that is, it is a practice whereby bilinguals and multilinguals use their entire linguistic repertoire to communicate and make meaning (García, 2009; García, Ibarra Johnson, & Seltzer, 2017)   It is through that lens that we have partnered with teacher educators and bilingual education experts, Drs.

Read more

PRH Education Classroom Libraries

“Books are a students’ passport to entering and actively participating in a global society with the empathy, compassion, and knowledge it takes to become the problem solvers the world needs.” –Laura Robb   Research shows that reading and literacy directly impacts students’ academic success and personal growth. To help promote the importance of daily independent

Read more