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'Black Maria': Verse Noir

'Black Maria': Verse Noir
By JOEL BROUWER

Published: May 1, 2005

However amusing it might be to imagine T. S. Eliot pitching ''The Wasteland'' to an Armani-clad studio executive -- ''It's the Commedia meets 'The Golden Bough' meets Baudelaire, with a cast of thousands of footnotes!'' -- the truth is that few books of poetry lend themselves to Hollywood-style synopsis. But then few books of poetry claim on their title pages, as Kevin Young's ''Black Maria'' does, that they have been ''produced and directed by'' the author. So here goes: Young's new book is a film noir in verse, with set designs by Raymond Chandler and jazzy dialogue la Langston Hughes, starring men and women who are close cousins of the characters from Walter Mosley's Easy Rawlins novels. Through five ''reels'' of around 15 poems each, Young tells the story of a private eye named A. K. A. Jones, who in classic noir fashion falls for his gorgeous but duplicitous client in the early going, then descends into the underworld of ''Shadowtown'' -- a burg so noir ballgames are ''called . . . / On account of too much sun'' -- trying to solve a mystery, get the girl, and outwit the sundry thugs and floozies who try to break his legs and heart along the way.

''Black Maria'' -- ''rhymes with pariah,'' Young writes -- is a slang term for either a police van used to transport prisoners or a hearse, and an apt title for this collection, whose covers swing open to reveal a gang of poems named after B-movie regulars: the Gunsel, the Hack, the Snitch, the Mooch and so on.

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April is National Poetry Month!
'Black Maria': Verse Noir

18 Dec 2002 :: 14 Nov 2008
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