Yusef Komunyakaa


Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana. He earned a BA from the University of Colorado Springs on the GI Bill, an MA from Colorado State University, and an MFA from the University of California-Irvine. Komunyakaa’s early work includes the poetry collections Dedications & Other Darkhorses (1977) and Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (1979). Widespread recognition came with the publication of Copacetic (1984), which showcased what would become his distinctive style: vernacular speech layered with syncopated rhythms from jazz traditions. His next book I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986) won the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; Dien Cai Dau (1988), a book that treated his experience in the Vietnam War in stark and personal terms, won the Dark Room Poetry Prize. It is regularly described as one of the best books of war poetry from the Vietnam War. Komunyakaa’s Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems (1994) won the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the Pulitzer Prize. Komunyakaa's other works include Warhorses (2008); Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part 1 (2006); Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999 (2001); Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000); and Thieves of Paradise (1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award. His most recent collections of poetry include The Chameleon Couch (2011), Testimony: A Tribute to Charlie Parker (2013), Emperor of Water Clocks (2015), and Everyday Mojo Songs of the Earth (forthcoming). He is the author of the verse play Gilgamesh: A Verse Play (2006) and in collaboration with composer T.J. Anderson the opera libretto Slip Knot. In 2011 Komunyakaa was awarded the Wallace Stevens Award. He is the recipient of numerous honors and awards including the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He served as Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets from 1999-2005. He has taught at numerous institutions including University of New Orleans, Indiana University, and Princeton University. Currently he serves as Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program. Source

Blue Light Lounge Sutra for the Performance Poets at Harold Park Hotel

the need gotta be

so deep words can't

answer simple questions

all night long notes

stumble off the tongue

& color the air indigo

so deep fragments of gut

& flesh cling to the song

you gotta get into it

so deep salt crystalizes on eyelashes

the need gotta be

so deep you can vomit up ghosts

& not feel broken

till you are no more

than a half ounce of gold

in painful brightness

you gotta get into it

blow that saxophone

so deep all the sex & dope in this world

can't erase your need

to howl against the sky

the need gotta be

so deep you can't

just wiggle your hips

& rise up out of it

chaos in the cosmos

modern man in the pepperpot

you gotta get hooked

into every hungry groove

so deep the bomb locked

in rust opens like a fist

into it into it so deep

rhythm is pre-memory

the need gotta be basic

animal need to see

& know the terror

we are made of honey

cause if you wanna dance

this boogie be ready

to let the devil use your head

for a drum





Literary Movements:

Civil Rights Movement

Anthology Years:


Ars Poetica

Joy & Praise

Poems of Place

Literary Devices:


the repetition of the same letter or sound at the beginning of words appearing in succession


a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences


The repetition of similar vowel sounds that takes place in two or more words in proximity to each other within a line; usually refers to the repetition of internal vowel sounds in words that do not end the same.


a comparison between two unlike things using the words “like” or “as”