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Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (Wesleyan Poetry Series) Paperback – March 15, 1993
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Tonight I feel the stars are out
to use me for target practice.
I don't know why they zero in like old
business, each a moment of blood
unraveling forgotten names...
On the black string of days
there's an unlucky number
Although his poems of the Vietnam War belong to the battle-weary tradition of Siegfried Sassoon, Louis Simpson, and Bruce Weigl, they gain an added complexity from the tense absence of battle. The idea of being a soldier in an unpopular war, as Komunyakaa was, attains in such poems as "Monsoon Season" and "Water Buffalo" a metaphysical air. In these poems, ponchos feel like body bags and one speaker realizes, "I'm nothing but a target," but the bullet never comes. As in his poems about growing up in Bogalusa, Louisiana, Komunyakaa's voices have prepared themselves for pain, and they celebrate the confusion of the lifetime before it strikes, or the clarity of the moment just after. This is a rich collection from one of our most rewarding poets. --Edward Skoog
From Library Journal
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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Top Customer Reviews
Long ago, a friend defined poetry for me as "the marriage of meaning and music." I remember the late Etheridge Knight bemoaning in one of his haiku poems that "making words swing . . . ain't no square poet's job." Over the years, I've heard a number of poets read poetry, mostly their own; only a handful, such as Amiri Baraka, with any kind of groove and insight.
Komunyakaa and his work were both unknown quantities when I heard him read at Boston University some years ago. Never forget it! His voice was resonant as a cello. His presence was serene, eloquent as burnished mahogany. His casual elegance reminded me of singer "Big Joe" Williams, who fronted Count Basie's band for so many years. Combine that majesty with the power and grace of his reading, the pulse and insight of his poems . . . He finished to a standing ovation, while I, practically doubled over and in tears, as if just kicked in the solar plexus (literally knocked out by the beauty and the passion of what I'd just witnessed) cried in awe and joy. His performance had touched me, as someone else I knew once said, "down here where the soul begins . . ."
What about his poetry moves me so much? His wordsmithing in a distinct blues & jazz-inflected voice.Read more ›
Now about the book: I have been actively searching out Komunyakaa ever since I saw his poem, "Troubling the Waters." When I bought Neon Vernacular some years ago I put everything else away because Neon Vernacular was the only thing worth looking at for months. Now, I find myself reading "Songs for My Father" over and over. I even wroe a poem based upon "Starlight Scope Myopia" from Dien Cai Dau. Simply put, Yusef Komunyakaa is the one living writer I most want to meet with and talk poetry.
"He danced with tall grass
for a moment, like he was swaying
with a woman. Our gun barrels
When I got to him,
a blue halo
of flies had already claimed him"
Komunyakaa’s work covers a broad landscape. He sits in the jungles and cities of Viet Nam, twirls back to two women talking in a kitchen, a musical chat between neighbors, to transforming himself into a young girl, abused and raped repeatedly and indifferently by her father -- “Stepfather: A Girl’s Song” (p. 45). This breadth is astonishing. How does he get these settings, the feelings, so wildly divergent, so right? His poetic voice roams through musical blues and jazz expressions, “Copacetic Mingus” (p. 72) or “Untitled Blues” (p. 64); stark and vital statements of fact, as seen in “April Fools’ Day (p. 62), or “Monsoon Season (p. 130); some are epic in nature, “A Good Memory” (pp. 14-44); others present themselves as newspaper columns, “Changes; or, Reveries at a Window Overlooking a Country Road with Two Women Talking the Blues in the Kitchen” (p. 8-10). He make a grim monolog in “A Break From the Bush” (p.146), compelling in its blinding darkness. A eulogy for the not-yet-dead.
His words are delicious (“Praising Dark Palaces” p.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
All of the best poems are in this novel. If you like this poet this book is the one you should be looking at!Published on May 4, 2013 by Sabrina
Some people read Komunyakaa because he's a great Vietnam war poet. Some read him because he's a truly great Black poet. And they're right, too. Read morePublished on February 10, 2006 by John Michael Albert