Yusef Komunyakaa
(USA, 1947)   
Yusef Komunyakaa

Born in Bogalusa, Louisiana in 1947, Yusef Komunyakaa grew up during the Civil Rights movement and later traveled to Vietnam as a correspondent for the US Army. Komunyakaa’s poetry draws on these experiences, as Bruce Weber notes in the New York Times: “his poems, many of which are built on fiercely autobiographical details – about his stint in Vietnam, about his childhood – deal with the stains that experience leaves on a life, and they are often achingly suggestive without resolution.” His poetry questions rather than answers, often blending past and present to create complex expressions of suffering, loss and memory.

Komunyakaa’s work frequently circles around violence. While guns and physical violence reappear throughout, it is the internal violence that fascinates. In a series of poems on sin, Komunyakaa renders the age-old vices newly frightening in their dominance over the presumed sinners. Fiercely detailed, the poems at the same time tempt the reader with their beautiful language. The relationship between violence and art emerges throughout Komunyakaa’s work; creative production is both a means of combating violence and a way of imposing one's will, liberation as well as submission to a new force. In ‘Gluttony’, the creative act is all-consuming as the presumed sinner “balls up/ Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always/ Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.”

Komunyakaa’s recent collections include Warhorses (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008), Taboo (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006) and Gilgamesh: A Verse Play (Wesleyan University Press, 2006). He is also the editor, with Sascha Feinstein, of the Poetry Jazz Anthology, Volumes 1 and 2 (Indiana University Press, 1991 and 1996).

Music, particularly jazz, pervades Komunyakaa’s poetry. Visible not only in the short, rhythmic lines of his poems, it appears also as a symbol of beauty through brokenness. In ‘Togetherness’ he writes, “I say a midnight horn/ & a voice with a moody angel/ inside, the two married rib/ to rib, note for note.” Music is both separation and unity, personal and communal. Komunyakaa’s poetry has a duende-like quality, finding artistic expression in confrontation with life’s hardships.

Yusef Komunyakaa has taught at the University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University. He lives in New York City where he is currently the Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University's graduate creative writing program.




Dedications and Other Darkhorses
, RMCAJ, 1977
Lost in the Bonewheel Factory, Lynx House Press, Amherst, 1979
Copacetic, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 1984
I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 1986
Toys in a Field, Black River Press, 1986
Dien Cai Dau, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 1988
February in Sydney (chapbook), Matchbooks, 1989
Magic City, Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1992
Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1993
Thieves of Paradise, Wesleyan University Press/University Press of New England, 1998
Talking Dirty to the Gods, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001
Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 2001
Taboo, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006
Gilgamesh: A Verse Play, Wesleyan University Press, Middletown, 2006
Warhorses, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2009
The Chameleon Couch, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011


(Editor with Sascha Feinstein) The Jazz Poetry Anthology, Indiana University Press, Bloomington, 1991
(Translator, with Martha Collins) The Insomnia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu, University of Massachusetts Press, 1995
(Editor with Feinstein) The Second Set: The Jazz Poetry Anthology, Volume 2, Indiana University Press, 1996
Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries, edited by Radiclani Clytus, University of Michigan Press, 2000



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