What rich and provocative territory the poems in leadbelly haul us into, what unbeatable characters they compel us to confront … each speaking in a unique voice, alone and in unison, voice calling to voice, song to song, desire and dream and music elaborating an unforgettable story … It is exhilarating to be invited into a world so large and muscular, so rooted in history, a world where so much is at stake.
— Brigit Pegeen Kelly, Song

A biography in poems, leadbelly examines the life and times of the legendary blues musician from a variety of intimate and historical perspectives, using a range of innovative poetic forms. A collage of song, culture and circumstance, alive and speaking.  leadbelly was the National Poetry Series winner selected by Brigit Pegeen Kelly.

Changing history into poetry takes mysterious skills: the poet must not only know history, but must be able to bury himself in the character and time and, at the same moment, be very present as a shaping agent. A great historical poem gives readers a feeling for the subject that no other kind of writing can give them. This is one of the most powerful exchanges between poetry and history that I have read. —Toi Derricotte

In its scope, this is an astonishing book, an unflinching chronicle of the life of a great musician and the times in which he lived. Highly recommended.  —Library Journal, 15 Dec 2005

I suspect this book, about one man's journey through the blues, is as close as a book of poetry may get to describing what it means and what it costs to have this music in your veins. —Cornelius Eady

History unfolds revealing the overlooked blues-original Huddie Ledbetter in rising poet Tyehimba Jess’s first book, leadbelly. … There is an orality in Jess’s prose poems that lends itself directly to this project. A powerful intertwining of history and blues told through poetry. Jess has created a unique book with a distinct voice that any lover of blues or student of American history needs. —Booklist