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The Chameleon Couch: Poems Hardcover – March 15, 2011

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 128 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux (March 15, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374120382
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374120382
  • Product Dimensions: 8.3 x 5.5 x 0.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #649,314 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Komunyakaa is one of the select few who can venture into the �dragon�s cave,� to use his trope for the realm of myth and archetypes that feeds literature of the greatest valence. Consequently, his poems possess a haunting grandeur born of tragedy and the quest for coherence. In his newest work, the Pulitzer Prize winner shares unusually personal reflections steeped in his intimacy with ancestors, gods, and monsters. These finely formed lyrics are timeless in their shadows and wounds, and startlingly fresh in mood, metaphor, image, and such pairings as gargoyles and power lines, sugar and salt. Like the chameleon, the poet changes tones and patterns as he contemplates slavery, genocide, and private moments of searing loss and admits, �Beauty can�t set records / straight.� But he is attuned to the simultaneity of pain and pleasure and the transcendence of art (especially jazz) and love. This intricately magnificent collection slowly grows more buoyant as Komunyakaa shakes loose, swings, sings, and declares himself: �I am a black man, a poet, a bohemian, / & there isn�t any road my mind doesn�t travel.� --Donna Seaman


The Chameleon Couch proves itself an expertly crafted book from a poet peaking in his awareness and execution of all the tangled dialectics that manifest in his art, but also refuses to define, or divine like a prophet burned too many times by past certainty, what awaits us or any of our chosen chameleons or ghosts other than the ones we already know, which in Komunyakaa’s hands, resonate perfectly across the wide swath of history.” —Paul Corman-Roberts, The Rumpus

“This 14th collection from Komunyakaa does not wear its ostensible subject—how to continually reinvent life when the past constantly wells up within the present—on its sleeve. But over the course of these poems, Komunyakaa revisits his shared love of jazz with the poet William Matthews, an earlier ease with multiple lovers ("back when it was easy to be/ at least two places at once"), an impossible-to-forget era where "a black boy or girl sent to the grocery store... / could disappear between a laugh &/ a cry," and, in a poem of the same title, "A Voice on an Answering Machine" that belongs to someone dead (who "lives between the Vale of Kashmir & nirvana, beneath a bipolar sky"). The ease and lack of defensive ornament allow a new kind of autobiographical poem to emerge, a daybook-like chronicle of what it is to have the freedom in later life to remake oneself moment by moment, while accommodating all that one has done, and those one has loved, before. The last poem, "Ontology and Guinness" is at once a joyous celebration of Obama's election and an effortlessly self-elegizing cenotaph. That the poem, which also sings the praises of a certain stout, holds together at all is a testament to its maker's will and invisible skill.” –Publishers Weekly

“Komunyakaa, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 Neon Vernacular, writes poetry that confronts the dark places of both national and personal history … The mix of violence and intimacy is sure to haunt the reader … yet a persistent hope in the possibility of healing exists throughout the book … Here hedonism is reimagined; music and love are valuable not because they offer escape, but because they contain the possibility of healing.” —Elizabeth Hoover, The Dallas Morning News

“In The Chameleon Couch, Yusef Komunyakaa toys with character and voice with the shape-shifting skill of a best-selling novelist working under several pseudonyms. Through first-person narration, he tells enough stories to fill a hopping dance floor: a fine lady, an aging man, a territorial ghost, a street urchin, an occasional drag queen … Like most forms of fiction, the characters of The Chameleon Couch provide distractions from a painful past, from memories that threaten to pierce the pageantry with intense sorrow … The reverence and gravity of so many of the poems in this collection can be overwhelming for a light-hearted reader, but the author uses love to buoy the spirits. Love runs defiantly through nearly every poem … The closing lines of the collection achieve artful dignity, and a hard-earned smile: ‘The older I get / the quicker Christmas comes, / but if I had to give up the heavenly/taste of Guinness dark, I couldn’t / live another goddamn day. Darling, / you can chisel that into my headstone.’” —Julie Dill, St. Louis Magazine

“In Yusef Komunyakaa’s latest, The Chameleon Couch, the Pulitzer Prize-winner seamlessly blends the ancient and the modern . . . and the mythic and the personal . . . His winding lines and abundant use of ampersands recall Allen Ginsberg’s jazzy riffs, and his bold proclamations (‘Tell your inheritors to think of me / when they smile up at the sky’) are impressively Whitman-esque.” —Carmela Ciuraru, Newsday

“Anyone may come to Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry, but only the most hard-skinned remain unmoved. His verse smolders with checked energy ... He is a poet of great magnitude and The Chameleon Couch sees the scope of his poetic interests and intersections widening.” —Levi Rubeck, Bomblog

“Known for musical references and remarkable imagery, the Pulitzer Prize winner mixes worlds freely. Memory is stirred up and ghosts engaged, from Minerva to Monk. Indictments are handed out in a measured way and balanced with adulation. Rope and catgut are bookends. The scales demand a ‘pinch of salt for a pinch of sugar.’

More than a witness, Komunyakaa navigates between poles: between crime and faith, cages and paradise, love and reason. He confronts despots and turns thunder into nourishing rain. A romantic muse slips by on winged feet . . .

‘Flesh’ is a hundred-line poem of ten stanzas that tackles the ‘ultimate question.’ Komunyakaa rips his discourse out of the void as he steals the voices of gulls from the ‘creator’s … mouth.’ Challenging the hurt while following desire, the poet initiates a sacrificial act as he becomes his ‘own communion.’

If the idea is to make the word flesh, then Komunyakaa comes damned close. The lion masters the lyre.”—Jeffrey Cyphers White, The Brooklyn Rail

“Komunyakaa puts his thoughts and images together with the utmost restraint; this is intricately conversation poetry devoid of exclamation marks or shouting . . . These are poems that emerge from a mythical core and yet sound magically contemporary.” —Alex M. Frankel, The Antioch Review

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Customer Reviews

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Best wishes and happy reading.
Allen Hagar
Your book, sir, is a little too much like the burnt bottom surface of a pan cake.
Gordon Hilgers
The Chameleon Couch is his consummate work.
Carol Moscrip

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Gordon Hilgers on December 28, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
When I saw Yusef Kommunyakaa's almost electronic perfromance on Bill Moyers's' "The Language of Life", I was already half-dead from depression. To see a Black man on stage backed-up by jazz was surreal and beautiful. I checked-out the man's books. I read the man's books. I do not happen to be a chameleon, but I do sleep on the couch. Quite often. I have a bad back. The couch is soft and wouldn't exist in my life had it not been for a kind man from Africa who stood like Chakka Zulu and smiled at me from across the atrium courtyard of a SOR on Bowser. Like, bow-wow. You know: The dog and the hair of the dog. At least the man from Africa had the God-given sense to find me furniture after four years of homelessness in the ever-so-racist schitck called Dallas, Texas, prison city of America for children and relatives of the Justice of the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals of New Orleans who decided in favor or Rosa Parks in 1956.

Do I have street cred yet? Has Komunyakaa ever been threatened by the Klan? I have. I've been silenced by the Klan. I don't like being silenced by the Klan, just as my uncle did not appreciate having a cross burning in his front yard in the 1950s. Nor did our family appreciate the swastikas on the family gravestones. Nor did I in particular enjoy some Southern voice telling me at age three that he was going to kill my mother.

Yes, Yusef, some of us honkies sacrificed almost everything for you. Thanks for the chump change.

I really do not think this is Kommunyakaa's best book. All black cover, a hint of ocean waves, and a big circle of approval from the National Book Award admitting the author and performance poet as a finalist. I can't even take the bus to Denton, Texas.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Allen Hagar on October 27, 2013
Format: Paperback
Yusef Komunyakaa's book The Chameleon Couch, is a modern success. Perhaps foreshadowing a post-modern world, Komunyakaa speaks of colors and slavery. Forward in spirit, freedom and liberty, music plays in the background of the soul.

In tune with the devil's home in Hades, cognizant of hell on earth, swimming in waters Atlantic and aware of the wares of the poetic gods, Komunyakaa weaves a strand of pearls.

My favorite poem comes near the book's conclusion. It is titled, "Togetherness." Describing historical couples, the poet comes to the modern era to describe Billie Holiday and Lester Young. It concludes, " if she knew what it took/ to make brass & flesh say yes/ beneath the clandestine stars/ & a spinning that is so fast/ we can't feel the planet moving./ Is this why some of us fall/ in & out of love? Did Lady Day/ & Prez ever hold each other/ & plead to those notorious gods?/ I don't know. But I do know/ even if a horn & voice plumb/ the unknown, what remains unsaid/ coalesces around an old blues/ & begs with a hawk's yellow eyes." Tremendous and outstanding!

Best wishes and happy reading.

Allen Hagar
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By CharlieChaplin101 on December 3, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I have been a huge Komunyakaa fan ever since my sophomore year in High School, my mentor still lets me borrow his work every time I ask. He's been a large influence on me as a poet, and I am deeply in love with "The Chameleon Couch", one of his best, in my opinion.
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