Black Maria: Poems Produced and Directed By
By Kevin Young

(Knopf, 256 pages)

A private dick irrigated with booze and soused by desire falls for a dangerous dame in Kevin Young's Black Maria, a noir in verse that will give Raymond Chandler's best a run for their money. The action starts, as it always does, with a woman asking for a light. A.K.A. Jones, the book's hard-luck narrator, cheekily quips he can give Delilah Redbone only dark instead of light, she accepts and off we go to the dog track, the moody night, the shadowy interrogations, the velvet betrayals and the hungover mornings. Many a night ends with Jones alone, bent over a diner table asking for "Two eggs/ over queasy." Then it's back to his apartment and his "Murphy bed like a booby/trap." Like Young's last book, Jelly's Blues, a series of sweet and lowdown licks in the vein of the great Jelly Roll Morton, Black Maria is essentially an homage – only this time it's to film noir. Turning phrases left and right, spangling his story with the occasional rhyming couplet, Young manages to evoke noir's familiar conventions without simply duplicating contours.

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