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New England Ode
by Kevin Young

i.m. Richard Newman
d. 2003

Straight-backed pews
painted white
Compost, not trash
Boston marriage
Public school or Private
Paper, not plastic
Frappe, not milkshake
or malted
Rotary, not roundabout
Where do you summer?
Native, native, tourist
My loneliness
study group meets Thursdays
Shore, coast, overfished
Soda, not pop
Wetlands, not swamp
No Sunday Sales
Irish Twins
I’m a vegetarian
though I still love lamb
Pulpits high up
Spas, bubblers,
dry cleansers
Pineapple fences
Red tide
Sparkling or still
Woodchucks, not groundhogs
My dog & I
are both on a diet
Pay at the counter
Do you smell fire?
This is our year
All we need
is some good pitching
The Begonia Club
Volvo Volvo Volvo
Volvo Honda Volvo
The town my great-
grandfather founded
is just a tiny one
Fans, not a/c
Indian pudding
Patriot’s Day, Bunker
Hill Day, Evacuation Day,
Lime Rickey
Curse, not pennant
Hiss, not boo
Pews you unlatch
to climb into, then lock
shut behind you


Discussion Questions

  1. This poem is called an ode, which Merriam Webster defines as “a lyric poem usually marked by exaltation of feeling and style, varying length of line, and complexity of stanza forms.” Does the poem entirely fit that description, and if not, why is it still an ode?

  2. If this poem is an ode, can it also be an elegy, which M.W. defines as “a song or poem expressing sorrow or lamentation especially for one who is dead”?

  3. The poem is a listing of images rather than a narrative. How would the poem change if a more narrative structure is introduced?

  4. Some lines consist of one thing contrasted with another thing. Does this always mean they’re opposites? Other lines contain one thing, still others form complete sentences broken up over two or more lines. These three types of lines are mixed together throughout the poem, alternating in an irregular order. What do the three line types themselves, as well as the way they’re presented together, suggest to you about the meaning of the poem?

  5. The images here speak to a specific way of New England life, employing local colloquialisms and their general equivalent elsewhere. What images do you recognize and understand, which ones are unfamiliar to you? What might these observations say about New England past, present, and future?

About Kevin Young

Kevin Young (b. 1970) graduated from Harvard College, was a Stegner Fellow at Stanford University, and received his MFA from Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island. Young counts Langston Hughes, John Berryman, and Emily Dickinson as inspirations, as well as the art of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Young was a part of The Dark Room Collective, a Cambridge-based African-American poetry community which also counted Thomas Sayers Ellis, Sharan Strange, Major Jackson, and Natasha Trethewey as members. Young has written six books of poetry and has edited four anthologies: Giant Steps: The New Generation of African American Writers, Blues Poems, Jazz Poems, and John Berryman's Selected Poems. His “Black Cat Blues,” originally published in The Virginia Quarterly Review, was included in The Best American Poetry 2005. Young has also won a Quill Award, the John C. Zacharis First Book Prize, two Patterson Poetry prizes, and been a finalist for both a National Book Award and a Los Angeles Times Book Award.

Splitting his time between New England and Atlanta, Young now teaches writing at Emory University, where he is the Atticus Haygood Professor of English and Creative Writing as well as the curator of the Raymond Danowski Poetry Library.

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