Thieves of Paradise

Yusef Komunyakaa is not the type of poet who can be typecast. If readers think Komunyakaa’s poetry is defined simply by his race—he is African American—his experiences in Vietnam, or his growing up in Bogalusa, Louisiana, they have another think coming. Certainly Komunyakaa’s work is informed by his experiences, but his poetry is too diverse, too dream-oriented, too eclectic to be defined. In THIEVES OF PARADISE, a structured collection made of four sections of fifteen short poems each, and three sections composed of one long poem each, Komunyakaa counters the implicit logic in the collection’s ordering through his jumpy, surreal, phantasmagoric poems.

“Testimony,” a long poem that comprises the sixth section, is unlike some of Komunyakaa’s other work in that it avoids the autobiographical, but it has that same argument/counter-argument approach in its form that is typical of Komunyakaa. The poem, a tribute to Charlie Parker, is made of fourteen sections and each section is composed of two fourteen line stanzas. This formality plays off nicely against the bluesy, syncopated, image-jumping richness of his poems. This lively tension is present in all of his poems, whether he is imagining two paleontologists in dialogue inside a glassed-in cubicle, describing the Vietnam War Memorial, inventing a bar scene with the Italian poet Cesare Pavese, or characterizing the type of touching that goes on in love making, war games, and sax playing.

While not for everyone, these poems are for anyone who takes pleasure in the inventiveness of the human mind and the dynamic music in the English language.