rev. of leadbelly by Tyehimba Jess

Issue #99
Spring 2006


leadbelly, poems by Tyehimba Jess (Verse): Tyehimba Jess, like the subject of his National Poetry Series–winning debut, coaxes an astonishingly rich world from the wood and steel scraps of the life he finds before him. He chronicles the story of Leadbelly—the killer, the lover, the victim, the son, the greatest bluesman of his time—and he has the chops to animate this complex man. Jess follows him from the cottonfields of the South to the great halls of Harlem, recording the history of race relations in the first half of last century. Jess is an extraordinarily good poet. Employing an impressive variety of voices and forms, he plays all twelve strings strapped to the box, all the bars of the jails Huddie Ledbetter lived within: "sit down and let me tell you mama, / ’bout the worry iron wrought on a man." —David Daniel