Yusef Komunyakaa Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
Award: Pulitzer Prize for Poetry and Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
Born in 1947, Komunyakaa is an American poet and editor.
Neon Vernacular (1993) includes work from several of Komunyakaa's previous volumes as well as various new poems. Like much of his verse, the collection is highly autobiographical and focuses on his identity as an African-American, his upbringing in the small community of Bogalusa, Louisiana, and his experiences as a soldier during the Vietnam War. Incorporating tales of anger, violence, death, racism, and poverty, his poems are often infused with rage and exhibit a pessimistic outlook on life. Critics note, however, that even when writing about emotionally wrenching events from his tour of duty in Vietnam or his relationship with his, at times, abusive father, Komunyakaa is frequently able to evoke feelings of tenderness and hope; in "We Never Know" he writes: "Our gun barrels / glowed white hot. / When I got to him, / a blue halo / of flies had already claimed him. / I pulled the crumpled photograph / from his fingers. / There's no other way / to say this: I fell in love. / The morning cleared again, / except for a distant mortar / & somewhere choppers taking off. / I slid the wallet into his pocket / & turned him over, so he wouldn't be / kissing the ground." Reviews of Neon Vernacular have additionally noted Komunyakaa's emphasis on music as well as the musicality of his writings. Robyn Selman asserted: "Like a brother less self-conscious than the poet, music as Komunyakaa hears it is not merely a celebration or even culmination of heritage and culture, but an alternate linguistic anatomy."