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


I love how it swells

into a temple where it is

held prisoner, where the god

of blame resides. I love

slopes & peaks, the secret

paths that make me selfish.

I love my crooked feet

shaped by vanity & work

shoes made to outlast

belief. The hardness

coupling milk it can't

fashion. I love the lips,

salt & honeycomb on the tongue.

The hair holding off rain

& snow. The white moons

on my fingernails. I love

how everything begs

blood into song & prayer

inside an egg. A ghost

hums through my bones

like Pan's midnight flute

shaping internal laws

beside a troubled river.

I love this body

made to weather the storm

in the brain, raised

out of the deep smell

of fish & water hyacinth,

out of rapture & the first

regret. I love my big hands.

I love it clear down to the soft

quick motor of each breath,

the liver's ten kinds of desire

& the kidney's lust for sugar.

This skin, this sac of dung

& joy, this spleen floating

like a compass needle inside

nighttime, always divining

West Africa's dusty horizon.

I love the birthmark

posed like a fighting cock

on my right shoulder blade.

I love this body, this

solo & ragtime jubilee

behind the left nipple,

because I know I was born

to wear out at least

one hundred angels.





Literary Movements:

Civil Rights Movement

Anthology Years:



Body & Body Image

Literary Devices:


an expression designed to call something to mind without mentioning it explicitly; an indirect or passing reference


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


a comparison between two unrelated things through a shared characteristic