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A collection of poems from the author’s earlier books combined with a dozen new poems interweave memory and history.
The latest collection from one of our preeminent poets, The Chameleon Couch is also one of Yusef Komunyakaa’s most personal to date. As in his breakthrough work, Copacetic, Komunyakaa writes again of music as muse—from a blues club in the East Village to the shakuhachi of Basho. Beginning with “Canticle,” this varied new collection often returns to the idea of poem as hymn, ethereal and haunting, as Komunyakaa reveals glimpses of memory, myth, and violence. With contemplations that spring up along walks or memories conjured by the rhythms of New York, Komunyakaa pays tribute more than ever before to those who came before him.
The book moves seamlessly across cultural and historical boundaries, evoking Komunyakaa’s capacity for cultural excavation, through artifact and place. The Chameleon Couch begins in and never fully leaves the present—an urban modernity framed,…[more]
Yusef Komunyakaa examines the basic rituals connecting insects, animals, human beings, and gods in this inspired collection. No turn in any life cycle is taboo here; it is the author’s personal challenge that shame not dictate any facet of subject matter in this volume, a volume in which each of the seven deadly sins is enlivened, sloth first.
The first of 132 four-quatrain poems is entitled “Hearsay” and the last is called “Heresy”—the book is framed by innuendo and the kind of lively satire that extends to folklore in the blues tradition. When Komunyakaa looks to nature, he configures his own paradigm, in which something as commonplace as the jewel wasp laying an egg in a cockroach is as grand as Zeus’s infidelity.
Author of eleven previous books, Komunyakaa has met his highest challenge to craft the lyric poems in Talking Dirty to the Gods. The compression of his sixteen-line form dictates an athletic use of language and generates truths past a poem’s dimension.
The collection centers on the disorienting experiences of the returning soldier, experiences that reverberate through the “Quatrains for Ishi,” a personal address to the sole survivor of an ancient race, and “The Glass Ark,” a conversation between male and female paleontologists working in the glass observation room at La Brea Tar Pits.