Poetry - Stones

Book cover. Black with lots of different small shapes on - skull, butterfly, gun, mask, grenade, arm, toy soldier etc
Tony Cross is reading all the books shortlisted for this year's T.S. Eliot Prize. Here are his thoughts on Stones by Kevin Young...

This is Kevin Young's first collection to be published in the UK. I've no idea why it took so long.

It is divided in seven sections. The last of which ‘Trumpet’ is the longest single poem in the collection. I found it moving and wonderfully written. I loved the language, which seemed to evoke place and climate superbly. Sometimes I was reminded of Robert Frost, particularly 'Spruce', but Young has a voice of his own.

The collection is the story of place and family, that circles homes, chapel, and graveyard. The red earth comes up again and again until the end of the collection when the red, rust earth is almost the final thing mentioned. By the end you have a real sense of place. He's great at using language to make you feel the heat and rain. I think the reason I thought of Robert Frost was that Kevin Young really ties the landscape and the people together.

I'm not sure why Kevin Young's work hasn't been published in the UK before. This seems to be his 12th poetry collection as writer. Were previous collections seen as too American? Because this is - for me - the poetry of America. It's odd. Only publishers and editors can answer that question. I hope this isn't the last Kevin Young collection we see published here.

I listened to Kevin Young reading the poems via Audible whilst reading a long. A process I recommend if you can afford it. I find it really helps immerse me in the poetry. I don't let my mind wonder, which is sometimes what happens when I'm listening to an audiobook alone and it really helps flesh out the poetry.

I often wonder whether poetry only really comes to life when read aloud. It seems that is what it is meant to be. The last link with the story tellers of old because poetry came before prose. After all, if you're trying to learn a chunk of text off by heart is it not easier to do it when it is poetry than prose? Even easier if it is music.

But I'm digressing. I think this is such a strong collection. It has a wonderful atmosphere which the themes - reaching back into his family and forward to his son - really wrap you up in. It is a collection that ponders life and death, faith and meaning, family and home.

It's a triumph of craft and art.

Follow Tony on Twitter @Lokster71

About the T.S. Eliot Prize

The T.S. Eliot Prize, for the best new poetry collection written in English and published in 2021 in the UK or Ireland, is run by The T.S. Eliot Foundation. This year's shortlist "celebrates ten books that sound clear and compelling voices of the moment" and includes one debut collection; work from six men and four women; one American; one poet from Ireland; as well as poets of Zambian and mixed-race ancestry, including Jamaican-British and Jamaican-Chinese.

Raymond Antrobus - All the Names Given (Picador)
Kayo Chingonyi - A Blood Condition (Chatto & Windus)
 - Read Tony's Review
Selima Hill - Men Who Feed Pigeons (Bloodaxe) - Read Tony's Review
Victoria Kennefick - Eat Or We Both Starve (Carcanet) - Read Tony's Review
Hannah Lowe - The Kids (Bloodaxe)
Michael Symmons Roberts -  Ransom (Cape Poetry) Read Tony's Review
Daniel Sluman - single window (Nine Arches Press)
Joelle Taylor - C+nto & Othered Poems (The Westbourne Press) Read Tony's Review
Jack Underwood - A Year in the New Life (Faber) Read Tony's Review
Kevin Young - Stones (Cape Poetry)

The winner of the 2021 Prize will be announced at the Award Ceremony on Monday 10th January 2022. For more on the shortlisted poets, including videos, readers’ notes and reviews, visit the T.S. Eliot Prize website.

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