Here’s today’s poet, Yusef Komunyakaa.
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947 in the quiet mill town of Bogalusa, Louisiana. Son of a carpenter he was raised in a house of few books at the beginning of the civil rights movement. His grandparents were church people, and he has said in an interview “the Old Testament informed the cadences of their speech. It was my first introduction to poetry.” During his youth, he read the bible all the way through, twice, and also borrowed James Baldwin’s Nobody Knows My Name, from Bogalusa’s black library a total of 25 times. In other respects, the town offered him minimal opportunities so, in 1969, he joined the army. He was shipped to Vietnam, where he became a combat reporter and managing editor for the Army newspaper Southern Cross; he was awarded a Bronze Star for his work.
Komunyakaa began writing poetry in 1973 and received a BA from the University of Colorado Springs in 1975 which he attended on the GI Bill. His first collection Dedications & Other Darkhorses, was published in 1977 was followed two years later by Lost in the Bonewheel Factory. During this time, he gained an M.A. and M.F.A. in Creative Writing from Colorado State University and the University of California, Irvine, respectively.
In 1984, Komunyakaa began teaching on the Creative Writing programme at Indiana University and also first received full recognition following the publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems which typically employs colloquial speech and shows the influence of jazz rhythms. He followed the book with I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986), which won the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau(1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize and has been cited by poets such as William Matthews and Robert Hass as being among the best writing on the war in Vietnam.
Since the late 1980’s Komunyakaa has published several more collections, including Thieves of Paradise (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.
The poet Toi Derricotte has written in the Kenyon Review that Komunyakaa “takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human.”
Check out today’s poem and as usual, please enjoy.
F. M. Laster
“I only like two kinds of men, domestic and imported.” -Mae West
By: Yusef Komunyakaa
If only he could touch her,
Her name like an old wish
In the stopped weather of salt
On a snail. He longs to be
Words, juicy as passionfruit
On her tongue. He’d do anything,
Would dance three days & nights
To make the most terrible gods
Rise out of ashes of the yew,
To step from the naked
Fray, to be as tender
As meat imagined off
The bluegill’s pearlish
Bones. He longs to be
An orange, to feel fingernails
Run a seam through him.