Poetry Explorer- Classic Contemporary Poetry: Explained, BUSKING, by KEVIN YOUNG

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Classic and Contemporary Poetry: Explained

BUSKING, by             Poet Analysis     Poet's Biography

"Busking" by Kevin Young is a poignant exploration of the artist's life, portraying the struggle and the tenuous relationship between art and survival. The poem delves into the world of street musicians, or 'buskers,' who play music in public areas for voluntary donations. Through this particular vantage point, Young masterfully weaves a tapestry of themes such as perseverance, desperation, and the transient beauty of human connections.

The opening lines, "The day folds up like money / if you're lucky. Mostly / sun a cold coin," serve as an introduction to the economic precarity that governs the busker's life. Here, the day is anthropomorphized into a currency, hinting that time, for the artist, is a form of capital that may or may not yield returns. The sun itself is compared to "a cold coin," a metaphor that captures the frigid uncertainty that comes with such a life.

Young's choice of imagery and language sets a vivid atmosphere. Phrases like "drumming into the blue / of a guitar case" not only evoke sound but also present color as an emotional landscape. The "blue" of the guitar case could signify both the melancholy and the aspiration of the artist's life.

The lines "Half-hundred times I wanted / to hock these six strings / or hack, if I could, my axe / into firewood" show the harsh realities and low moments of a busker's life. Here, the guitar, referred to as an "axe," is both a tool of art and a burden, a means of warmth that the speaker considers converting to firewood. However, Young adds, "That blaze / never lasts," suggesting that even if the artist gives in to despair, the warmth provided would be transient, unlike the eternal hope of creating lasting art.

The visceral images of singing "streetcorner / & subway over a train's blast / through stale air & trash" and being "fed by flies, / strangers, sunrise" provide a tactile experience of hardship, punctuated by both the ugliness and the unexpected beauty that come with this life. These lines also emphasize the artist's invisibility; he is seen but not necessarily acknowledged, an entity people "brush past."

"You've seen me, brushed past- / my strings screech / & light up like a third rail-" These lines encapsulate the often-ignored connection between the artist and the passerby. The busker's music, compared to the dangerous "third rail" of a subway track, is a live wire that could jolt the listener into awareness, but only if they are willing to engage.

The closing lines serve as a summary of the highs and lows of the busker's life: "Mornings, I am fed by flies, / strangers, sunrise." Despite the hardship, there's a redemptive quality to waking up each day and being 'fed' by life's small graces-be they flies, occasional generosity, or simply the light of a new day.

"Busking" achieves a fine balance between gritty realism and poetic grace, providing an authentic narrative of the artists who create despite societal neglect. It gives voice to the often voiceless, illuminating the resilience and dreams of those who color our world in hues of unspoken struggles and fleeting beauty.

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