I heard Yusef Komunyakaa read on Thursday night of this past week, at the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. The reading was part of the Folger Shakespeare Library’s O.B. Hardison Poetry series. It was a thoughtful, rich reading. I have read Komunyakaa’s poetry for years but had never heard him read. It’s always interesting to hear a poet read his own work, literally in his own voice. His poem “Facing It,” about the Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial in Washington, D.C., remains a standard in my creative writing classes. That poem is so gorgeous and well-crafted it captures young readers’ imaginations.
Komunyakaa read poems which related to a photography exhibit at the Phillips and it worked beautifully. He also wrote a few new poems just for this reading. Teri Cross Davis, the Poetry & Lectures coordinator at the Folger put this reading together beautifully. He read several poems from his most recent book The Chameleon Couch. (This link takes you to a review of the book by Henry Hughes at the Harvard Review) I’m taking a slow walk through this book right now and it is a delight. He mixes jazz elements with ancient mythology, he lands urban images beside rural ones. His Vietnam experience still haunts, in a good way, some of his poems. But his writing reaches well beyond those experiences. He is truly one of our great literary lights. Check out The Chameleon Couch. (Photo Credit: Poetry Foundation)