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Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels by Kevin Young

Readers Recommend

Posted 1.05.12

"In 2011 my reading list included, as always, primarily poetry. A longtime admirer of Kevin Young’s work, I am excited to report on his latest offering—twenty years in the making, according to interviews—Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels (Knopf, 2011). Being familiar with the subject matter of the collection—the 1839 mutiny aboard the slave ship Amistad, which sailed first to Havana and then ended up in Connecticut where the mutineers were put on trial—and, as a writer interested in exploring the history of rebellion on the island of my own family’s birth, Saint Vincent, West Indies, I was curious to see how this poet-professor would approach the material in terms of craft. Young is nothing if not original in his technique (see: Jelly Roll; To Repel Ghosts, both published by Knopf in 2003 and 2005, respectively) and that originality and singular inventiveness is on full display in Ardency. The chronicle is composed of fragments of voices, translations, letters, and in the final section, a libretto that Young proposes might have been sung by the insurgency’s leader, Cinque. Perhaps one of the most important gifts a poet can provide is an open door to imagination and curiosity. For example, were the Mendi truly converted from their own faith to Christianity? (“And toward the east / like a letter,—unsealed / delivered /// we ride—“). Musings like this abound in this powerful and necessary work. It adds to the braid of our stories. It should be mandatory for every reader concerned with American history."

—Lynne Thompson from Los Angeles, California

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