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Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

4.19  ·  Rating Details ·  1,441 Ratings  ·  49 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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Poetry "reconnects us to the act of dreaming ourselves into existence," Komunyakaa once wrote. Once you pause a minute to consider the pain that has served as an outline in this poet's life, and when you also consider the highfalutin awards and professorial prestige given to a man whom people still seem to refer to as a humble man and teacher interested in mentoring poets, you really see this statement for what it truly means. Dreams not only allow one to escape reality if needed, but they could ...more
Julie Christine
Jan 18, 2015 Julie Christine rated it really liked it
My introduction to Yusef Komunyakaa: Neon Vernacular is a sampling of his works from several collections. Gorgeous, raw, powerful language. There were times when I couldn't process the meaning of what I was reading, I simply let the words pour over and through and around me, like an abstract painting that pounds with colors and lines and textures.

I discovered the best way to experience Komunyakaa's poetry was to read it aloud- as is the case with most poetry. But his in particular contains such
john nielsen boyack
Jan 13, 2014 john nielsen boyack rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 27, 2009 Michael rated it it was amazing
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
Yona Yurwit
Dec 13, 2011 Yona Yurwit rated it it was amazing
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
Feb 01, 2011 secondwomn rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry, anthology, 2011
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.
Jul 27, 2011 Mia rated it it was amazing
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
Oct 12, 2011 Michael Borshuk rated it it was amazing
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.
Dec 20, 2009 Cheyenne rated it it was amazing
my favorite book of poems in the existence of books of poems.
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
Christina Olivares
Aug 30, 2012 Christina Olivares rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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
Feb 15, 2016 Sam rated it it was amazing
This book is a lot to take in. The poems in the collection are from a period of almost 20 years, and the poet's style goes through some significant changes. After reading Neon Vernacular, I want to check out "I Apologize for the Eyes in my Head" and Dien Cai Dau." Honestly, I could do with a re-read of the earlier material--it's less easily accessible and requires some time to sink in to the brain.

He incorporates dialogue well into fairly short poems--multiple voices alternating without being of
Feb 05, 2014 Sarah rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Mar 08, 2014 Patrick rated it really liked it
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
Christina Rau
Jan 04, 2012 Christina Rau rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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
Phil Overeem
Dec 17, 2012 Phil Overeem rated it it was amazing
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....
May 19, 2013 Anthoferjea rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
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.
Trey Rogge
Aug 09, 2016 Trey Rogge rated it really liked it
Komunyakaa is not only one of today's strongest jazz poets, but one of the most powerful living poets in general. His stanzas on jazz come alive as if Thelonious Monk was still breathing, and his writings on Vietnam carry a lasting poignancy similar to Malick's 'The Thin Red Line'. Solid collection.
Candy Sue
Jan 18, 2008 Candy Sue rated it it was amazing
Shelves: newfavorites
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."
Nov 29, 2012 Matt rated it it was amazing
Shelves: to-re-read, poetry
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.
Jul 06, 2011 Sophia rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Sep 16, 2010 Care marked it as to-read
Recommended to Care by: Leslie
Shelves: in-the-house
committing to this for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Challenge
Eveline Chao
Jun 24, 2007 Eveline Chao rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry, favorites
Yusef was my professor and he's amazing. I think I like his war stuff best. I'm not that into jazz poetry.
Peter Mulholland
Dec 11, 2016 Peter Mulholland rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
By far my favorite collection of poems. Komunyakaa is a versatile poet who draws on many different styles of poetry to create a truly unique poetic landscape. His jazz poems both glorify and elegize some of the jazz greats of the 20th century, and his war poems plunge readers into the dark, visceral, and strangely surreal world of a soldier struggling to survive both war and war's aftermath. One can return to this book over and over and continue to be surprised by the poems.
Jun 03, 2013 Gina rated it liked it
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
May 09, 2012 Glen rated it really liked it
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).
Eric Phetteplace
Jul 20, 2007 Eric Phetteplace rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry
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.
Aug 20, 2008 Kim rated it it was amazing
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.
Pam Escarcega
Feb 16, 2015 Pam Escarcega rated it really liked it
I love his work.
Sep 27, 2010 Ronald rated it really liked it
A great set of poems. One of the best.
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¡ POETRY !: Yusef Komunyakaa 14 48 Feb 06, 2012 02:55PM  
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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
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“I am this space my body believes in.” 24 likes
“Foolhearted mindreader,
help us see how
the heart begs,
how fangs of opprobrium
possess our eyes.”
More quotes…