Poet Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947.
Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana on this day in 1947. His upbringing in the racially charged South and his tour in Vietnam in the 1970s prove to be the focal point of much of his poetry. Pieces from his war collection Dien Cai Dau, a Vietnamese term for American soldiers, meaning "crazy," are widely taught and include examples of vivid and devastating imagery. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Komunyakaa currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.
Yusef Komunyakaa's poetry can be used in many ways in the classroom. One essential poetic element that can be closely examined in his work is imagery.
- As you read aloud (or listen to, if you have the technology) the poem "Camouflaging the Chimera," ask students to underline words and phrases that create vivid pictures in their minds.
- Have students rewrite one or two lines of the poem so that they are free from details. For example, the line, "We hugged bamboo & leaned against a breeze off the river" could be rewritten, as "We sat next to the river. There was a breeze." Then, in pairs, ask students to reread the poem with their changes. What has changed? What is lost?
- Next, have students write down another line of the poem that is particularly effective. Collect their papers and redistribute one to each student. Have each student attempt to draw the image on a large piece of paper and explain its effect. Ask, "Why did the author include that line? What was he hoping to get the reader to feel?"
- Display pictures and explanations in the classroom.
This website contains several of Komunyakaa's poems with audio recordings, a brief biography, and links to articles on his work.
Biographical material and online poems, including one audio file, are available on this Poetry Exhibit from the Academy of American Poets.
This extensive list of Web resources includes historical data, documentary coverage, references in popular culture, and more.