Poetry on the Margins

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Although Yusef Komunyakaa is particularly known for Dien Cai Dau (1988), which depicts various aspects of the Vietnam War, he also addresses other dimensions of the African American experience not commonly discussed by other poets. His extensive treatment of the old South, in particular, is unique for its mixture of poignancy and nostalgia. While employing African American art forms such as jazz and the blues, he is also a virtuoso of the dramatic monologue, the soliloquy, and the surrealist juxtaposition of surprising images. Critic Matthew Flamm has described him as “pain’s constant witness, often speaking for the historically dispossessed, but with the assumption that he does so only on his own idiosyncratic terms.”

Komunyakaa was born and reared in Bogalusa, Louisiana, a southern town with a Ku Klux Klan presence. During the Vietnam War, he served as a correspondent and editor of The Southern Cross (1969-1970) and received the Bronze Star. He returned to the United States to complete his education, receiving a bachelor’s degree from the University of Colorado in 1975, a master’s degree from Colorado State University in 1979, and a master of fine arts degree from the University of California at Irvine in 1980. Partly because of his academic training, Komunyakaa is extremely well read and very much at home with the writings of American poets past and present. While studying for his degrees, he published two chapbooks,...

(The entire section is 522 words.)