The Chameleon Couch

Yusef Komunyakaa, Editor
Yusef Komunyakaa. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $24 (128p) ISBN 978-0-374-12038-2
Reviewed on: 03/21/2011
Release date: 03/01/2011
Paperback - 115 pages - 978-0-374-53314-4
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This 14th collection from Komunyakaa does not wear its ostensible subject—how to continually reinvent life when the past constantly wells up within the present—on its sleeve. But over the course of these poems, Komunyakaa revisits his shared love of jazz with the poet William Matthews, an earlier ease with multiple lovers ("back when it was easy to be/ at least two places at once"), an impossible-to-forget era where "a black boy or girl sent to the grocery store... / could disappear between a laugh &/ a cry," and, in a poem of the same title, "A Voice on an Answering Machine" that belongs to someone dead (who "lives between the Vale of Kashmir & nirvana, beneath a bipolar sky"). The ease and lack of defensive ornament allow a new kind of autobiographical poem to emerge, a daybook-like chronicle of what it is to have the freedom in later life to remake oneself moment by moment, while accommodating all that one has done, and those one has loved, before. The last poem, "Ontology and Guinness" is at once a joyous celebration of Obama's election and an effortlessly self-elegizing cenotaph. That the poem, which also sings the praises of a certain stout, holds together at all is a testament to its maker's will and invisible skill. (Apr.)
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