Tag Archives: Yusef Komunyakaa

Warhorses and The Porcine Canticles, Briefly Reviewed

Warhorses by Yusef Komunyakaa and The Porcine Canticles by David Lee

Warhorses by Yusef Komunyakaa (2008)

Yusef Komunyakaa is, as previously mentioned, one of my all-time favorite poets. He’s a very deft writer, who can amaze, and blaze images and words into your head. Or sometimes he can be just deft. This isn’t my favorite of Komunyakaa’s work, but it’s not like he’s become a terrible writer here. It is and isn’t a criticism of Warhorses to say that it’s a collection that does something together (it’s a lyric meditation on war (so of course love too), touching on conflicts historic through present-day (it was published in 2008)), but it’s not a collection of individually great poems. (The third section is the exception — “Autobiography of my Alter Ego,” Continue reading

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Reading across Komunyakaa’s “Changes; or…”

Changes; or, Reveries at a Window Overlooking a Country Road, with Two Women Talking Blues in the Kitchen” is a two-columned jazz poem by Yusef Komunyakaa (from the New Poems section of 1994’s Neon Vernacular) that, like a great piece of jazz music, I get something more out of with every reading.

On the left side of the page, Mary and Eva Mae, friends from childhood, are “talking B-flat blues” in the kitchen, catching up on the (cheating) men and (loose) women they used to know. Meanwhile on the right, Mary’s grandson, “just dragged in / From God only knows where,” and “Nice as a new piece / of silk,”  is thinking about jazz, all kinds of jazz from Philly Joe Jones to Billie Holiday to Charles Mingus to John Coltrane, and memory, and black culture, and the way thoughts move between them. The poems starts with an “A-one, two, three” of men’s names, “Joe, Gus, Sham . . . ” putting us in music territory from the start. Continue reading

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Elizabeth Bishop is the most important poetry god.

The most important in my personal pantheon, I mean.

And more generally, I don’t think you can love poetry and not love Elizabeth Bishop.

I’ve touched on most of my other major gods in this blog before (Mark Doty, Yusef Komunyakaa, and the most recent addition, Larry Levis), but haven’t said much yet about her. One must tread lightly when analyzing one’s gods, after all. But I’ve been writing Poetry Dork posts for exactly a year now, so it’s about time I paid Bishop some attention here.

Doty, Komunyakaa, Levis, and Bishop are poets who “are it” for me. They do what poetry is supposed to do, what I want it to do. They write poems that are and do what poems are and do when they are at their best. Continue reading

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August is kind of an odd month, summer ending, a little melancholy, a little heavy feeling, (especially if it’s an afternoon when you’re listening to the Assassination of Jesse James soundtrack and Antony & the Johnsons, and even when the weather isn’t ungodly hot). August is vacation month, although “No One Goes to Paris In August,” where “Nobody has time like this” and days grow “Late with shade, low, low, long.”

On an August afternoon you might sport a “floppy existential sky-blue hat” and say to your woman, “Woman, I got the blues” and “Sweet Mercy, I worship / the curvature of your ass” and “For us there’s no reason the scorpion / has to become our faith healer.” (“Woman, I Got The Blues” by Yusef Komunyakaa, in Copacetic and his collecteds.) Or on an August afternoon you might sit down for a long, and hi-larious, yarn like David Lee’s “The Tree” (in Day’s Work and A Legacy of Shadows .)

Late August can also be “a pressure drop, / rain, a sob in the body,” and it’s a good time, they say, to plant iris,  or just to sit in the backyard, where “Nothing is endless but the sky. / The flies come back, and the afternoon / Teeters a bit on its green edges,/ then settles like dead weight / Next to our memories.”

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Since it is that time of year…

Skipping over Jim Carroll’s Basketball Diaries, merely because I haven’t read (or seen) it, William Matthews, who I’ve mentioned before, jumps to mind with regards to March Madness. In addition to jazz and family, basketball is a frequent preoccupation of his poems. Matthews talks about practice (“Foul Shots: A Clinic“) with an eye towards the metaphysical, about attending a game (“Cheap Seats, The Cincinnati Gardens, Professional Basketball, 1959“) with an eye towards adolescents’ reality, and about players’ physicality (“In Memory of the Utah Stars“), from both a fan and former player’s point of view.

In “Sandlot Basketball” that former-player aspect is the focus. Amidst a memory of youth comes age’s regret, “Dribbling in the dust, coughing like a dying boat, each knee the color of a boiling lobster, I hate my decadent grace. Body, come back; all is forgiven.” Basketball and youth, being so related and so short a period of time, perhaps explains the frequent poems which are looking back on basketball from old(er) age, with tinges of regret, as in John Updike’s “Ex-Basketball Player”  and B.H. Fairchild’s “Old Men Playing Basketball” with their “heavy bodies” and those bodies’ “broken language,” and their hands “fine and nervous on the lug wrench.”

Yusef Komunyakaa’s basketball poem Slam, Dunk & Hook, has these high-energy, beautiful descriptions of athleticism, youth in their prime, Continue reading

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The Thorn Merchant’s Family

In screenplays, characters are introduced with a 1-2 sentence description, something short but vivid enough to paint a picture. For instance, from the Out of Sight screenplay, “a guard, PUPKO (“PUP”), heavy-set, dumb as dirt.” Or from Pulp Fiction, ” LANCE, late 20s, is a young man with a wild and woolly appearance that goes hand-in-hand with his wild and woolly personality.”

Yusef Komunyakaa‘s poem “The Thorn Merchant” begins,

There are teeth marks
on everything he loves.

What a character intro! The poem is entirely a character description, slowly and beautifully building a portrait of a trafficker of harm. The language is a taut mix of straightforward images (“The ink on contracts disappears,” “Another stool pigeon leans/over a wrought-iron balcony,” “shadow of a crow over a lake”) and language that imparts more tone than explicable information. “There are teeth marks/on everything he loves” isn’t too (forgive me) thorny — things dogs have chewed, things rats have gnawed, or even a pencil that has been absentmindedly chewed. But what about “In the brain’s shooting gallery/he goes down real slow.” What does that mean? Continue reading

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