The bass player picked and strummed, the crowd snapped their fingers and the California poet laureate showed off a singer's voice Friday night.
More than 100 teenagers, senior citizens, couples and middle-aged singles packed the Del Norte County Public Library to hear Al Young read from his andquot;Coastal Nights and Inland Afternoons.andquot;
Young recalled interviews, books, movies, musicals and musicians, explaining the scenes where he set his poems the King's real-life search for enlightenment, for instance, in andquot;The Elvis I Knew Well Was Spiritual.andquot;
The tall, black poet recalled the music of the 1950s and teenage dances at rec rooms in his andquot;Doo-Wop: The Moves,andquot; along with white peoples' calls to ban negro music.
He also urged listeners to pay attention to their language.
A dead society now uses dead language, Young said, noting such terms as andquot;collateral damageandquot; and politicians who proclaim that soldiers have died for just and noble causes.
andquot;It's absolutely meaningless,andquot; the 67-year-old Young said, calling his term as poet laureate a mission to remind the public of their words. andquot;Enter poetry. Poetry freshens our language, the way that we read words on the page and read with our hearts and our souls.andquot;
He recalled the McCarthy era with his poem andquot;Shirley Embracing Sam, 1952,andquot; shouting the phrase, andquot;Are you now or have you ever been?andquot;
andquot;I grew up watching people not say anything and we're in such a time again,andquot; Young told the crowd.
He noted a long period after World War II when Germans distrusted the words of their government leaders because of the nazis' corruption of the German language.
andquot;When times are really dark, like these, poetry surfaces,andquot; Young said, pointing to Dylan Thomas, Langston Hughes and the beat generation poets who came out of the 1950s, along music, drama, painting and dance. andquot;These are the true treasures of any society. We're not remembered for our armies and navies.andquot;
Reach Hilary Corrigan at firstname.lastname@example.org.