In the poem “Ruler of my Spine”, B. Yung assigns the momentous task of accessing the music of his heart beat to “a woman who understands its click.” However, in his book The Spirit’s Undying Chase, Yung graciously and courageously grants all of his readers the opportunity to revel in the many melodies of his heart.
The nearly three-year-long project, which he began at the age of 19, is a coming-of-age narrative in verse form. Yung began writing the book after his experience as a member of the 2008 Urban Word NYC youth slam poetry team. Reflecting on his motivation to begin writing a book after months of poetry writing and performances leading up to and following the team’s journey to the Brave New Voices Poetry Festival, Yung says he had more to say. “None of my poems were really about me,” he says. “I had to show them the real.” And that’s precisely what he does for 217 pages…
From the book’s dedication to the “woman in the cafe” where he writes who brings him regular coffee refills “without [him] having to ask” to the experimental haiku where he declares “for ev’ry girl who hates me, there are ten women who love me harder” Yung shows you “the real” of a young man who is living life on his own terms. In his openness and honesty he demonstrates an understanding of and appreciation for the rough patches that both him and the people around him have experienced with a level of maturity and insight that challenges the many stereotypes about the younger generation.
Neither defying nor defining expectations is anything new to Yung. After visiting publishing companies and realizing that none of them would be able to tell his story in the manner and according to the timetable that he preferred, he made the bold decision to self-publish his book. While self-publishing (particularly for smaller projects) has become increasingly commonplace, he had a vision for something beyond the chapbook. Despite the misgivings of those who wanted him to wait and to go about the customary publishing procedure, Yung chose to do things his way. He decided to trust the following that he had built for himself over the years and to put in the work to give his fans a product that represented the truest and the best of himself.
The book is organized into six sections. The opening section entitled “After the Violin Sings” establishes the atmosphere for what the reader is about to experience. “You know a big movie is about to start when you hear the violins,” Yung says, explaining the symbolism of the section title’s principle motif. “It brings you into the story.”
“More of an old-school movie though, right?” I inquired.
“It’s a vintage feel,” he agreed.
In the following section, “Children of the Ghetto”, Yung strives to depict the ghetto from a unique angle, personifying it as a woman and dedicating the poems within the section to the different children to which she gives birth. “Every ghetto owns a Tamika,” he asserts in “Child 4: The Ghetto’s Eternal Design”.
Yung admits that “The Many Faces of Her” was the most difficult section of the book to write. In it, he describes his relationships with many women, whom despite being different individuals, are essentially the same woman. He believes that his poetic analysis of these relationships represent his present and are perhaps the greatest contributing factor to both the man that he is and the man that he continues to become.
According to Yung, the fourth section, “Facing the Mirror” represents “me looking deep inside myself to find the truth and facing the truth.” One of the most crucial and relatable truths that he faces in the section has to do with his relationship with his father. At different points in the book, Yung displays symptoms of the growing pains that have become almost characteristic of the existing collection of “no-daddy” poems.
However, again, the maturity that Yung demonstrates in his understanding, and even appreciation, of the complexities of their relationship is what sets his poems on the topic apart from the rest. “I know now that I must not take my father’s displeasing mannerisms for a kinglike complex/But to translate it into something beautiful,” he muses in “My Father’s Language”. “A revelation started as I was writing,” he says. “Understanding is always my ultimate goal.”
Yung’s use of imagery to portray the understanding that he acquires is one of the major hallmarks of the book. He defines imagery as “a combination of heart and mind” and says “the bigger the feeling, the bigger the imagery” needs to be, equating the task with attempting to “scream on a page.”
In the final section, “Silencing the Fire”, Yung attempts to figure out a way to mend his problems and move on. The motif of the fire represents “the wrath”, the passion and energy that society often tries to destroy.
It is the fourth section, “The Chase,” that fuels the fire that propels the book and its author forward. Discussing his reason for naming the book The Spirit’s Undying Chase, Yung explains, “My spirit or my soul was hungry for something. It was chasing something and it didn’t know why.” While the feeling was initially a personal one, he eventually realized that many people were in the same situation, leading lives that did not fulfill their purposes. He articulates this problem in the book’s title poem saying, “It is the voice that claws you out of your skin and tells you…live.”
The Spirit’s Undying Chase proves that Yung has done just that. The creativity, power, yet vulnerability with which he tells his story are rare and admirable qualities. While he is known for leaving himself on the stage, Yung instead leaves himself on the page to be examined, critiqued, and immortalized in print. In doing so, he offers himself and his readers a form of liberation, enabling them to discover, comprehend, and truly value his story and to acknowledge and assess their own stories in the process.
To experience the liberation for yourself and to support true talent and independent art, please purchase The Spirit’s Undying Chase at http://www.thespiritsundyingchase.com.