TABOO: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part One

Yusef Komunyakaa, Author
Yusef Komunyakaa, Author . Farrar, Straus & Giroux $20 (132p) ISBN 978-0-374-29148-8
Reviewed on: 09/20/2004
Release date: 09/01/2004
Paperback - 132 pages - 978-0-374-53015-0
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A much-honored poet faces a global canvas in this lengthy, information-rich if sometimes repetitive sequence (the first in a promised trilogy), whose poems consider interracial contact, conflict and misunderstanding in the African diaspora, from Herodotus, ancient Greece and Egypt to modern (not to say modernist) New York. Phillis Wheatley, Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemings, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Faulkner's Miss Emily, Perseus, Othello, Anne Frank and several giants of jazz stand among the many whose legacy (evil, praiseworthy or both) prompts at least one poem. The large cast makes the book feel at times exhilaratingly expansive, at other times simply crowded—no poet has used this much history, this many figures and famous names, since Robert Lowell (himself another character here). Komunyakaa won a Pulitzer for 1993's Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems , which featured his extraordinarily skillful jazz-inspired short lines. Those lines here serve off- balance three-line stanzas that bear tremendous weights of raw information, and finally carry the book. The best poems either tell unfamiliar stories (Benedict the Moor, in the volume's moving finale) or eschew proper nouns for personal reflection ("In Line at the Bank"). If other verse tells more than it can show, or sounds more reportorial than lyrical, the whole sequence testifies to a skill, and an ambition, that will surely continue to merit national attention. (Sept.)

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