English Lit: Poems (Paperback)
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.
Bernard Clay is a Louisville, Kentucky, native who grew up in the shadow of the now demolished Southwick housing projects on the West End of town. Clay received an MFA in creative writing from the University of Kentucky Creative Writing Program and is a member of the Affrilachian Poets collective. He currently resides on a farm in eastern Kentucky with his wife, Lauren. English Lit is his first book.
“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’).”—T. E. Lyons, 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.”—Frank X Walker, author of Affrilachia and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets
“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.”—Kelly Norman Ellis, author of Tougaloo Blues and founding member of the Affrilachian Poets