Yusef Komunyakka
Yusef Komunyakka

Yusef Komunyakka was born and raised in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where he grew up learning two things: the power of words and the power of tools. His father and generations before him had been carpenters, and Komunyakaa was schooled early in the craft. “They taught me the value of tools: saws, hammers, chisels, files and rulers. It all dealt with conciseness and precision. It eliminated guesswork. One has to know his tools, so he doesn't work against himself.'' At the same time, his parents would fight often, and his mother would leave; the father would instruct the son to write letters of atonement—movingly recounted in his poem “My Father’s Love Letters.” Perhaps it was inevitable that woodworking and words would marry inside the young Komunyakaa, who still feels that early weight of language and says strongly that "we are responsible for our lives and the words we use." for he is one of the preeminent  poets living and writing in America today—writing with unflinching honesty about the African-American experience, love and loss, jazz and the blues, childhood, death, and betrayal. It was fourteen long years before he was able to explore his harrowing time in Vietnam, but those books, Dien Cai Dau and Toys in a Field are searing in their intensity. Adam Kirsch speaks of Komunyakaa’s verse as “forms of witness, autobiographical and morally insistent.” He has won the Université de Rennes’ Faulker Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in recognition of his book Neon Vernacular.  A talented musician, thinker, essayist, and educator as well as a poet, he has published ten volumes of poetry, two anthologies, a libretto in honor of Charlie Parker, and a brilliant manual on the craft of poetry, Blue Notes. Of creating new work, he says he feels it is “an ongoing process. We're getting to new territory over and over, as long as we live as artists.” Komunyakaa lives in New York and teaches at Princeton University.

Poetry Center Readings:
Fall 1998 (with Forrest Hamer)

Poems by Yusef Komunyakka

Audacity of the Lower Gods

facing it

february in sydney

The Poetry Center at SMITH COLLEGE
Smith College