Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
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Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

4.23 of 5 stars 4.23  ·  rating details  ·  957 ratings  ·  37 reviews
An award-winning poet's testimony of the war in Vietnam.
Paperback, 188 pages
Published April 30th 1993 by Wesleyan (first published March 1st 1993)
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The Collected Poems by Wallace StevensThe Waking by Theodore Roethke77 Dream Songs by John BerrymanThe Collected Poems by Sylvia PlathThe Wild Iris by Louise Glück
Pulitzer Winners: Poetry
21st out of 90 books — 32 voters
Rapture by Susan  MitchellNeon Vernacular by Yusef KomunyakaaSplit Horizon by Thomas LuxRough Music by Deborah DiggesSpring Comes To Chicago by Campbell McGrath
Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award
2nd out of 21 books — 1 voter

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Diann Blakely
"I am this space/my body believes in," ends "The Unnatural State of the Unicorn," the first poem in Yusef Komunyakaa 's 1986 volume, I APOLOGIZE FOR THE EYES IN MY HEAD (Wesleyan). That the body itself, apart from mind or soul, can possess beliefs--or memories or hopes or regrets or revelations--comes as no surprise to anyone familiar with Komunyakaa's work, or to anyone discovering this poet for the first time through NEON VERNACULAR, which includes rich samplings from books now out of print. T...more
It's the language, the ease of it all. It pops like Jazz, unexpectedly, or maybe less like jazz and more like cooking a pan of homemade fries on the stove. Its the texture of the book itself.

I can't remember the title of the poem (it might've been the title piece), but the poem co-existed side by side with another poem, telling the same story in dual columns, where the lines would meet, and occasionally make sense, or sometimes not. But it wouldn't be gibberish, it just didn't make immediate sen...more
This is one of my favorite poetry books. Raw and sensual. Hot and cool. Mixed words that come out as absolute atmosphere and feeling. This book was my handbook in university..I learned by osmosis to write poetry and even fiction from Mr. Komunyakaa's writing. I learned to be bold like I wanted to be. Excellent...never goes out of fashion.
Michael Borshuk
A masterful collection. Komunyakaa surprises me--wows me!--again and again with the inventiveness of his language and the rawness of the emotional material he confronts. The Viet Nam sequence in the second half is particularly noteworthy, but this book is tremendous at every turn.
john nielsen boyack
Jan 13, 2014 john nielsen boyack rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ravens
Recommended to john nielsen by: Mike White
Believe this, brother,
we're dice in a hard time hustle.
- p. 73

I never said there's a book inside
every tree. I never said I know how
the legless beggar feels when
the memory of his toes itch.
-p. 54

Sweet Mercy, I worship
the curvature of your ass.
- p. 74

Unnatural State of the Unicorn

Introduce me first as a man.
Don't mention superficial laurels
the dead heap upon the living.
I am a man. Cut me & I bleed.
Before embossed limited editions,
before fat artichoke hearts marinated
in rich sauce & served...more
Love the title -- that's what originally spurred me to buy it -- but some of the poems frustrated me. Too chunky, too formulaic in some cases, not enough shock and awe.
my favorite book of poems in the existence of books of poems.
Vivid, vital poems with a jazz beat.

Personal favourite:

Unnatural State of the Unicorn
Introduce me first as a man.
Don't mention superficial laurels
the dead heap up on the living.
I am a man. Cut me & I bleed.
Before embossed limited editions,
before fat artichoke hearts marinated
in rich sauce & served with imported wines,
before antics & and Agnus Dei,
before the stars in your eyes
mean birth sign or Impression,
I am a man. I've scuffled
in mudholes, broken teeth in a grinning skull
like the m...more
below: just a handful of my favorite lines from this collection...

The whole town smells
Like the world's oldest anger -p3

Like a man drunk on the rage
Of being alive -p 4

That's the oak we planted
The day before I left town,
As if father and son
Needed staking down to earth -p5

My first lesson:
Beauty can bite -p13

We weighted the bullet
In our hands, tossing it left
To right, wondering if it was
Worth more than the kill -p15

As if they could love the heart
Out of any wild thing -p23

You can hug flags...more
Christina Olivares
yes and yes. blues aesthetic. extraordinary. and i love hearing him read, too. Anodyne - below, & you can hear him read here


I love how it swells
into a temple where it is
held prisoner, where the god
of blame resides. I love
slopes & peaks, the secret
paths that make me selfish.
I love my crooked feet
shaped by vanity & work
shoes made to outlast
belief. The hardness
coupling milk it can't
fashion. I love the lips,
salt & honeycom...more
Describing Neon Vernacular as a singular volume is difficult for me not only because it's a mishmash of several of his books of poetry but also because I read it in small portions over a long period of time. To be honest, I don't think I remember or even understand all of it. I need to do a second read through. However--this is the important part--I do want to read it again, and I did enjoy reading it. That's what really matters about a literary work, isn't it?

I love Komunyakaa's juxtapositions...more
p.3 The whole town smells/ like the world's oldest anger. Fog Galleon
p.87 I've done it all/ to be known to be known as myself. Unnatural State of the Unicorn

The work an impressive collection of poems. When the author is at his best, images and bursts of color infuse the poems. The scattered, strong images create interesting scenes and stories. Included within the collection is "Facing It," which is a fantastic poem featuring the Veitnam Veterans War Memorial. Most of the highly charged material...more
Christina Marie Rau
Yusef Komunyakaa has two types of poetry. One type is talky, conversational, and story-like. The other is lyrical, imagery-filled, and layered. I like the latter more. He shows off his unique sense of the world through those. His poems about military life also offer a view into a world many do not know; however, I'm not a fan of that kind of poetry. I do appreciate activist poetry, but the poems about army life are not enticing for me. Still, he weaves them in a seemingly effortless manner, whic...more
Read it again--
Komunyakaa does what is hardest to do as a poet, capturing live music and war on the page. I was fortunate enough to have an opportunity to hear him read not long after I started the book, which certainly colored how I read it. The things I appreciate most about Komunyakaa's work are his ability to seamlessly utilize a variety of registers, vernaculars, and dictions; his eye for people and personalities; and his ability to evoke a depth of emotion with great economy.
Phil Overeem
A bit of one of the many great ones (my favorites are on music, war, and physicality):


Beating wind with a stick.
Riding herd in the human spirit.

It's how a man slips his head into a noose
& watches the easy weight of gods pull down

on his legs....

But I know war criminals
live longer than men lost between railroad tracks

& crossroad blues, with twelve strings
two days out of hock....
This is a very powerful collection, really an anthology drawn from several previously published works. Some of the poems on racism and the Vietnam War are very difficult to read, but brutally honest and at times strangely, paradoxically beautiful. His best poems, to me, are ones that pertain to women and music, where his erotic imagery and musical verse take over the mind and tongue (I like to read poetry aloud).
Candy Sue
Probably my favorite book of poetry. I am blown away by his imagery and voice, haunted by some of these poems. This book never fails to leave me reeling. It's kind of fun to read it on the train, because I start talking to myself, saying things like "whoa" and "damn."
Unfuckwithable. Dien Cau Dau is probably my favorite book of poetry ever, but all the stuff in this collection afterwards is excellent as well. He only gets sort of flabby and incomprehensible after Neon (the stuff in "Pleasure Dome" isn't an improvement, it's just kind of a distraction). See him live if you can.
It wouldn't be fair to rate this. I've read about 2/3rds of it, have felt incredibly moved by a majority of what I've read, but need to 1) finish the book and 2) re-read it cover to cover before I can rate it. However, this is clearly a masterpiece.
still not sure how i feel about his poetry. He has some really beautiful imagery, but sometimes i think his verse is overwrought and over-done. I'm not sure how one person sees fit to make the same social commentary over and over again.
Eric Phetteplace
The new poems in this collection were really good, lush diction and images, but then as I got farther into his older books the poetry was pretty typical and didn't have much going for it, though the Vietnam stuff is also pretty good.
This is easily one of my favorite collections of poetry. Yusef just fucking rocks. His use of the illuminating biographical detail is untouchable. Unforgettable images. Do yourself a favor and get into it.
Greta Roussos
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry 1994, Yusef Komunyakaa offers interesting poems. Well worth the time it takes to read or listen to, Neon Vernacular does not disappoint.
I've had the pleasure of seeing Komunyakaa read twice. Both times left me heartbroken and awestruck. His voice is as gritty and as beautiful as his poetry.
I read this one but wasn't highly impressed. Not that it's not good but just not up my alley, my cup of tea, didn't float my boat . . . you get it.
Jan 16, 2011 Care marked it as to-read
Recommended to Care by: Lu
Shelves: in-the-house
committing to this for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Challenge
Eveline Chao
Yusef was my professor and he's amazing. I think I like his war stuff best. I'm not that into jazz poetry.
Andrew Sydlik
So far, I'm stunned by his language....Something abrupt and sad, yet beautiful, about these poems.
I was just reminded of this collection. Read it when it came out. BEAUTIFUL!
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¡ POETRY !: Yusef Komunyakaa 14 46 Feb 06, 2012 02:55PM  
SONGS FOR MY FATHER 1 6 Dec 16, 2007 05:17PM  
  • Different Hours
  • The Simple Truth
  • Selected Poems
  • Selected Poems
  • Thomas and Beulah
  • Black Zodiac
  • Repair
  • The Dream of the Unified Field: Selected Poems, 1974-1994
  • The World Doesn't End
  • Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems: Collected Poems, 1950-1962
  • The Country Between Us
  • Elegy
  • Vice: New and Selected Poems
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Steal Away: Selected and New Poems
  • The City in Which I Love You
  • My Alexandria
  • Native Guard
Dien Cai Dau Talking Dirty to the Gods Magic City Pleasure Dome Warhorses

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“I am this space my body believes in.” 15 likes
“Foolhearted mindreader,
help us see how
the heart begs,
how fangs of opprobrium
possess our eyes.”
More quotes…