Poet's Choice By Robert Pinsky

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, December 17, 2006

Sometimes a poem delights by mismatching some familiar style of language with a surprising topic: T.S. Eliot taking material from the music hall as a way to brood on culture, Alexander Pope writing an epic about the trivialities of upper-class flirtation, Elizabeth Bishop describing her desk and its objects in the jargon of a miniature newscaster.

Kevin Young has written a book, Black Maria (an old term for a police wagon or a hearse), that lovingly uses the hyper-metaphorical tough-guy style of classic American detective fiction and movies. Part of his subject is male loneliness and selfishness, and connected to that subject are all sorts of poses and stereotypes. The book's protagonist is part Raymond Chandler, part Muddy Waters, and the poems unearth the emotional realities behind the old detective-story vocabulary of alibi and alias, suspect and saloon, gunsel and hideout, as well as the movie vocabulary of "Voiceover" (the rubric of each section or "reel" in the volume) and "Credits" (title of the last poem). Here is "The Hunch":


She wore red like a razor --

cut quite a figure

standing there, her

slender danger

dividing day

from night, there

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