“Through the years I have seen myself as a peaceful person, but the awareness of the anger is part of that process.”Yusef Komunyakaa
by Yusef Komunyakaa
In a country of splendor & high
Ritual, in a fat land of zeros,
Sits a man with string & bone
For stylus, hunched over his easel,
Captured by perfection.
But also afflictions live behind
Electric fences, among hedges
& a whirlwind of roses, down
To where he sits beside a gully
Pooling desires. He squints
Till the mechanical horizon is one
Shadowplay against bruised sky,
Till the smoky perfume limps
Into undergrowth. He balls up
Another sheet in unblessed fingers, always
Ready to draw the thing that is all mouth.
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Louisiana. He served in the Vietnam war, a combat war correspondent for the Army writing for the Southern Cross. He returned and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. His poetry is heavily influenced by his southern experiences, his war time service, his involvement with the civil rights movement and jazz. In short, its well rounded and interesting. Komunyakaa has taught at many prestigious institutions and was the Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005. He has received numerous awards including the Wallace Stevens award in 2011.
In reading a mixture of his poems, there is a directness and underlying tension that mixes well with his careful construction and word choices. There is an autobiographical quality to most of his poems that creates an honesty in his craft that resonated with me. In interviews, he speaks about his approach to poetry like a carpenter, in which each line is built carefully to support the next beam in the frame of the structure of the poem.
I am somewhat tired of the need to feel inspired by poetry during this long drawn out cold winter and never ending pandemic and now, more warfare in the headlines. I am sure I will come back to syrupy sweetness again, but at this moment, I am far more attracted to the directness and sometimes violence of Komunyakaa’s world, than the puffery of so many poets that transfers little mental nutrition. Not that an occasional dose of inspiration isn’t needed, but I am preferring the company of poets who speak from an experience about a world in which the only thing we can do is to keep trying.
What are you wanting from the poetry you read these days? Are you asking too much of it or even reading with the right intentions, forcing poems into places they were never intended? Of course that’s impossible, poetry can be whatever you want it to be. What I am wrestling with is what words are bringing me the most nourishment these days, or leaving me the most famished? How do I approach the meme-ish world of nothing-burger land of so much of what I see on shelves of Barnes and Noble? Does it satisfy you?
By Yusef Komunyakaa
Beauty, I’ve seen you
pressed hard against the windowpane.
But the ugliness was unsolved
in the heart & mouth.
I’ve seen the quick-draw artist
crouch among the chrysanthemums.
Do I need to say more?
Everything isn’t ha-ha
in this valley. The striptease
on stage at the Blue Movie
is your sweet little Sara Lee.
An argument of eyes
cut through the metaphor,
& I hear someone crying
among crystal trees & confetti.
The sack of bones in the magnolia,
What’s more true than that?
Before you can see
her long pretty legs,
look into her unlit eyes.
A song of B-flat breath
staggers on death row. Real
men, voices that limp
behind the one-way glass wall.
I’ve seen the legless beggar
chopped down to his four wheels.