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The Chameleon Couch: Poems

3.9  ·  Rating Details ·  193 Ratings  ·  22 Reviews
A new and intimate collection from one of America's most important poets

The latest collection from one of our preeminent poets, The Chameleon Couch is also one of Yusef Komunyakaa's most personal to date. As in his breakthrough work, Copacetic, Komunyakaa writes again of music as muse--from a blues club in the East Village to the shakuhachi of Basho. Beginning with "Cantic
Paperback, 128 pages
Published March 27th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published March 15th 2011)
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(showing 1-30)
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It was a fortunate mistake that brought me to this book. Because I've found some amazing and unexpected things from them--and even despite having come across a couple of duds--I'm a sucker for awards of pretty much any kind; The Golden Globes convinced me to watch "Jane the Virgin", the Man Booker Prize convinced me to read A Brief History of Seven Killings, neither of which really appealed to me before some committee somewhere said that they were good. It's a bit of a crutch I've developed to g ...more
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Finalist for the 2011 National Book Award. These are smart poems about life and identity, but I really gravitated toward those with music imagery.

This is my favorite:

Ode to the Guitar

The strings tremble & traverse
back up through that other
strong muscle singing blood
& guilt. Press a finger down,
& the message changes into blame
& beauty, into the scent of a garden
rising from peat moss & brimstone...
the frets & shaped neck worked
& caressed into a phantom limb
of hope. Doe
James Murphy
Oct 17, 2012 James Murphy rated it liked it
It's been a while since I read any poetry by Yusef Komunyakaa. I thought The Chameleon Couch more abstract and slippery than I remembered his poetry being, or anticipated. I found it difficult. He addresses the past here, I think. He writes about our shifting perspectives of personal histories. Some of his themes are classical. He acknowledges that such figures as Fortuna, Pan, and Mercury and the ideas of them exist, as do our interpretations of the past, because we're looking at them. If we lo ...more
Sep 27, 2011 Serena rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa — broken into three sections — challenges the mind and the internal rhythm of our souls. It challenges our preconceptions about everything from music to what it means to be an African American. In the form of aubades and odes, Komunyakaa evokes song throughout the collection, which have readers very focused on how the rhythms of the poems impact them beyond the words spoken. The poet is striving to reach not only the logical mind here, but something deeper ...more
Apr 27, 2011 Joshua rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, first-reads
The Qualifier

Poetry cannot be judged by the same good versus bad qualifiers as general literature: plot and character developement. For in poetry we see only what we know, feel, and experience. It is personal. The great poets of the past 200 years, Keats, Frost, Sandburg, Naruda, and Whitman to name a few, are not universally enjoyed. It is not because their words are not beautiful or poignant, rather we all live our life just a bit different. It is true enough that we all have shared experience
“The Chameleon Couch,” is the latest book by award winning author Yusef Komunyakaa. Komunyakaa is from Bogalusa, LA who is known for writing books about the African American experience before the Civil War. This particular book is no different from his past works, as he continues to write about black southerners. “The Chameleon Couch” is a collection of works that can be described as beautiful work accompanied by well-maintained rage.

Poetry is known for giving the audience an experience. It bec
Diann Blakely
I agree with R. T. Smith that this is Komunyakaa’s best book since his Pulitzer-winning *Magic City* (1992), which, followed the next year by *Neon Vernacular* (, was released Wesleyan University Press.Why? Komunyakaa is our most Antaeus-like poet, gathering strength as he moves toward native ground, metaphoric or literal. In “Blue Dementia,” for example, he pushes back, back, back to the Deep South, until he becomes almost a reincarnation of Robert Johns ...more
Craig Werner
Nov 26, 2011 Craig Werner rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
At his best, Komunyakaa's probably the strongest voice in contemporary American poetry, but it's been a while since he's published a collection that matches Dien Cau Dau, Copacetic, Magic City or Thieves of Paradise. The Chameleon Couch maintains a higher level throughout than his last several collections--War Horses, Taboo, Talking Dirty to the Gods, Totem. But it faded in and out on me a bit, especially in the poems that feel like continuations of personal conversations I don't have enough inf ...more
Nov 23, 2015 Godfrey rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
from "Three Figures at the Base of a Crucifixion", pg. 48

A twisted globe of flesh
is held together by what
it pushes against.

from "Green", pg. 78

I've known of secret graves guarded
by the night owl in oak & poplar
I've known police dogs on choke chains.
I've known how "We Shall Overcome"
feels on a half-broken tongue,

from "The Window Dresser's Song", pg. 106

They come from the outer boroughs
with endangered songs in their heads.
My great flair for hues and stripes
wows them on this city sidewalk,
May 12, 2013 Jason rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This is my first Komunyakaa collection to read, and I was only familiar with a few of his poems like "Facing It" and "Slam, Dunk, & Hook" going into this book. Both of these poems are fairly concrete and easy to understand. I thought I would get more like them in The Chameleon Couch. Boy, was I wrong. Maybe I'm not smart enough to appreciate all the allusions in these poems. Or maybe I just like my poetry a little more straightforward.

My only favorites:
Ode to the Chameleon
The Beautifu
Donald Armfield
Feb 02, 2013 Donald Armfield rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I'm a fan of Yusef, this being more of his personal work. Not a solid 4 star for my liking but enjoyable poetry from the author. My favorites;

-Eclogue at Midnight
-Ignis Fatuus
-Dead Reckoning
-Conceived in a Time of War
-Unlikely Claims
-The Beautiful Quickness of a Street Boy
-Last of the Monkey Gods
Sarah Liu
Jan 09, 2015 Sarah Liu rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
These poems are beautifully dangerous. They can only be read in small doses. I suffered physical pain from the intensity of the poems. I could only read them say 4 or 5 at a time without growing short of breath. I will have much more to say, after I go purchase the entire Komunyakaa canon and consume it, slowly.
Sep 15, 2016 Julie rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: owned
I wanted to like these more, the language was enticing and the rhythms rolled, but it was entirely over my head. I did not feel smart enough to enjoy this collection the way I think the poet intended.
Dec 14, 2013 Melissa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Why did it take me so long to read works other than "Facing It" from Komunyakaa? I did the quiet poetry "oh my god" after so many lines, stanzas, and poems of this book. He blends Greek mythology, personal history, and blues into a stunning canticle.
Carol Stephen
Dec 13, 2011 Carol Stephen rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Excellent book by Komunyakaa, selected as a finalist in this year's Griffin International Awards. Komunyakaa often surprises with his phrasing and timing. This is my favourite of his books that I've read.
ben adam
Feb 03, 2016 ben adam rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
Every book by Komunyakaa is great. This one is not his most memorable, but that's because his good books get drowned out by his awesome ones.
Jenna K.
Jun 02, 2016 Jenna K. rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Though the book was not exactly my taste and thus was not entirely finished, do not let that be a reflection on the objectively well-crafted and poignant prose it contains.
Isla McKetta
Apr 04, 2015 Isla McKetta rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I loved getting lost in this world-crossing volume filled with fresh images and Komunyakaa's signature rhythm.
Jun 14, 2015 Camara rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Love.Love. Love
April Pearson
Komunyakaa is one of my favorite poets. I own several of his books. I think this one was inspired by a trip to Europe. Beautiful language and strong subject matter as is his forte.
May 03, 2011 Michelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An amazing collection of poetry. Both moody and dark as well as lighthearted. All intelligent poems. Beautiful.
Benjamin Kinzer
Benjamin Kinzer rated it really liked it
Jan 10, 2015
Kyle Schnitzer
Kyle Schnitzer rated it liked it
Dec 11, 2011
Colin rated it it was amazing
Sep 15, 2012
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Mar 15, 2013
Kyle Schnitzer
Kyle Schnitzer rated it liked it
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Sep 21, 2012
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Yusef Komunyakaa (born April 29, 1947) is an American poet who teaches at New York University and is a member of the Fellowship of Southern Writers. Komunyakaa is a recipient of the 1994 Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award, for Neon Vernacular and the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. He also received the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Komunyakaa received the 2007 Louisiana Writer Award for his enduring contribut ...more
More about Yusef Komunyakaa...

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“Years ago you followed someone
here, in love with breath
kissing the nape of your neck,
back when it was easy to be
at least two places at once.”
“Go & tell your drinking buddies
& psychoanalyst your neighbor
has risen from the ashes. I wonder
if I should tell you about the love letters
hidden behind the doorjamb. This house
still stands among my lavender flowers.
Tell your inheritors to think of me
when they smile up at the sky.”
More quotes…