Imprint: Swallow Press
144 Pages, 6.00 x 8.75 in
- Published: August 2021
- Published: August 2021
Autobiographical poetry from one of Kentucky’s rising Affrilachian literary stars.
Bernard Clay’s autobiographical poetry debut, English Lit, juxtaposes the roots of Black male identity against an urban and rural Kentucky landscape. Hailed as one of the most authentic voices of his generation, Clay artfully renders coming-of-age in the predominately Black West End of Louisville, Kentucky. Balancing the spirited grit of a farmer and the careful lyricism of a poet, English Lit is a triumph of new Affrilachian—African American and Appalachian—literature.
“There is no other poet living or dead that I can say this about, but I’ve been waiting on a book from Bernard Clay for more than twenty years. Every time I’ve ever read a single poem by him or heard him read a poem aloud I’ve wanted a volume of his work in my hands. He’s always had the ability to slice truth down to the bone and hold it up to the light. He’s grown more wise and his skills are sharp. I’m thankful these words are in the world and I’m certain that every reader who reads them will feel the same way.”
“Clay’s work sings in surprisingly traditional style sometimes, but then pushes staccato beats to bring home the points his sharp eye sees, in matters of concern as varied as dealing with natural hair (‘Kinky Birthright,’ ‘Mr. Nap’s Fight’) to getting unreassuring looks as a Black man enjoying nature (‘Born Trekker’).” — LEO Weekly
“English Lit is a stunning debut collection by Bernard Clay that journeys through the speaker’s youth and the pain and trauma of poverty and racism. Clay artfully brings to life the African American Appalachian – Affrilachian – experience with the tenacity of bluegrass busting up through potholed pavement and the warmth and beauty of a smooth blue aster blooming in the Appalachian sunshine.” — Southern Review of Books
“Here’s our Affrilachian progeny’s first book. Crafted with a Black farmer’s heart, the poems in English Lit blast off from the West End (the best end) into a brave new world. One of the most rooted and nappiest voices of his generation, Clay delivers a beautiful tribute to his people, his community, and his generation’s dance with words, adding his name to the litany of Kentucky poets who love both the land and its people.”
“One of the great blessings of Bernard Clay’s poetry is the clear, unflinching Black voice. Clay writes from that Black-centered way of seeing in this ode to Black Louisville. Clay is the urban Affrilachian who is rooted in the silt and river of ‘the lilac and the dogwood and the pear and the redbud.’ The greens of his grandmother’s garden, the plastic on the good couch, the rides on TARC, Clay is bound to this Kentucky life both city and country. English Lit is a rich debut collection which is certain to become a classic of Kentucky literature.”
“Kentucky lit, American lit, have a new force that will be felt for years to come.”