Yusef Komunyakaa

Literary Birthday – 29 April – Yusef Komunyakaa

Happy Birthday, Yusef Komunyakaa, born 29 April 1947.


  1. We have to embrace the good over the bad. That has to be one’s personal project.
  2. I excavate history. I look at lives buried under too much silence. Periods of time, like slavery, have to be revisited, reimagined, so we can move through them.
  3. I like connecting the abstract to the concrete. There’s a tension in that. I believe the reader or listener should be able to enter the poem as a participant. So I try to get past resolving poems.
  4. I think of language as our first music.
  5. Students often have such a lofty idea of what a poem is, and I want them to realise that their own lives are where the poetry comes from. The most important things are to respect the language; to know the classical rules, even if only to break them; and to be prepared to edit, to revise, to shape.
  6. Poets are seen as the caretakers of language, so working with words no matter what the form is what we do.
  7. I originally wanted to embrace the imagery and forthrightness of rap music. There are some interesting, dynamic voices in rap. But I find most of it irresponsible in its overt violence and commercialisation of anger. As artists, we believe we can will action through language. If that’s the case, we have to take responsibility for what we say.

Yusef Komunyakaa is an American poet. He is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems.

Source for Image


David Shankbone, CC BY 3.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

by Amanda Patterson

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Posted on: 29th April 2014