Freedom’s opera

Poet Kevin Young, with book-length poetry projects on subjects like the blues (Jelly Roll: A Blues), early-20th century urban black life (Black Maria), and artist Jean-Michel Basquiat (To Repel Ghosts), now turns his attention to the Amistad. In 1839, a group of kidnapped Africans took over the slave ship and sailed to the coast of New York. Young turns this historical moment into Ardency: A Chronicle of the Amistad Rebels, an epic collection of poems that are operatic in scope. The poems take the perspective of a servant translator; John Quincy Adams, their defender in U.S. courts; and Cinque, the leader of the revolt. Young’s musical underpinnings are clear and literate. Nonetheless, his language is acidly sharp, as in this passage from “Covey,” the translator’s introduction: “From the wings I emerged:—step right up ladies / & Africans, feast your eyes on this Most Divine / Two-Tongue Man!”