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Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  1,690 ratings  ·  58 reviews
An award-winning poet's testimony of the war in Vietnam. ...more
Paperback, 188 pages
Published April 28th 1993 by Wesleyan University Press (first published March 1st 1993)
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Average rating 4.20  · 
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 ·  1,690 ratings  ·  58 reviews

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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
Jan 18, 2015 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 Boyack
Jan 13, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Ravens
Recommended to John 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 with imp
Christina Olivares
Aug 30, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
Extraordinary. Here is the treat of "Anodyne" -- below, & you can hear Komunyakaa read here if you like:


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 & honeycomb on the tongue.
The hair holding of
Feb 27, 2009 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
Dec 13, 2011 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
Christina M Rau
Jan 04, 2012 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
Feb 01, 2011 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. ...more
Jul 27, 2011 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. ...more
Michael Borshuk
Oct 12, 2011 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 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
Feb 15, 2016 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 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 moon behind b
Mar 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
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
Phil Overeem
Dec 17, 2012 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....
Candy Sue
Jan 18, 2008 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." ...more
May 19, 2013 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. ...more
Trey Rogge
Aug 09, 2016 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. ...more
Jul 06, 2011 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. ...more
Nov 29, 2012 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. ...more
Eveline Chao
Jun 24, 2007 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. ...more
Sep 16, 2010 marked it as to-read
Recommended to Care by: Leslie
Shelves: in-the-house, poetry
committing to this for the 2011 Fearless Poetry Challenge
Apr 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
As a younger student, and uncontrollably ablaze with an itch for poetry, I stumbled upon a journalist, whose language seemed more like a history of a war, than prose. Vietnam has enamored the darkest in each of us after that era and no other writer, photographer, historian or professor has managed to construct the most ominous of testimony, as Yusef Komunyakaa. His collections of radical observation, including Neon Vernacular, take what has happened to him as a journalist and explored these ugly ...more
Jul 21, 2019 added it
Shelves: 2019, 2019-poetry
this was a rough slog by the end but there were a few gems also

by virtue of being a sampling of poems from across his collections there wasn't quite as much cohesion or focus, of course, across all of the poems. the lack of focus made the whole thing sort of a blur.

i think the blues-y jazz-y imagist-y poems flowed really well, felt really good in the mouth as it were, but weren't quite as semantically pointed as i would like? maybe i'm just not into impressionistic-forward poems right now.

Sep 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Pretty spectacular collections of poems spanning twenty years or so with some new ones thrown in for good measure. Komunyakaa manages the difficult task of precision, eloquence and passion. These are beautifully written poems about difficult subjects. He is a storyteller as much as anything else and there are lovely selections where he describes people and chapters from his childhood. He also recognizes that trauma inflicts trauma. In his poem about his father he moves from reverence to anger to ...more
Jan 16, 2021 rated it really liked it
Shelves: poetry-books
"Looking A Mad Dog Dead in the Eyes," "Thanks," and "Facing It" are as haunting as when I first encountered them almost twenty years ago (Nov. 2001 is when Yusef signed my copy). This is a staggering account of the traumas of both Blackness and Vietnam, a rhapsodic exegesis not just of jazz but the demons of the jazz greats, and a chronicling - in reverse - of Komunyakaa's ascent into a wholly distinct genius of rhythm & voice that abounds in his later Thieves of Paradise.

Again, just a great col
Mona Kareem
Jun 17, 2020 rated it liked it
I've been reading Komunyakaa for years now. I seem to like his Vietnam poems the most. There's so in DIEN CAI DAU for example, how entangled everything is, the poet being witness but also complicit in warfare, the trauma of victims and witnesses, and poetry is perhaps most fitting medium to tackle such experience.
Then I look at his other work, and sure I see the imagery and lyricism and all, but there's not much in ideas, rather self-indulgent. I think also in the poems he selected from I APOLO
Patricia N. McLaughlin
Mar 17, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: poetry
This gorgeous, 10-star collection belongs in every poet’s library and should be included in the literary canon as one of the most important books of any century to interpret the human experience and the meaning of earthly existence. “The Beast & Burden: Seven Improvisations,” in and of itself, is worthy of the Pulitzer Prize. Komunyakaa is deserving of the Presidential Medal of Freedom for his extraordinary cultural achievement and contributions to the cultivation of world peace, especially if t ...more
BC Batcheshire
Dec 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
It's difficult for me to give four stars to a collection of poetry such as this, but more difficult I would say is living the experience that forced the hand to write the words therein.
Yusef begins this selection with reminiscence of a rural home and the warmth of a sun-baked, hard-working grandmother... But the poetry progresses to the descriptives of the Vietnam conflict, and the prose becomes testimony of what he witnessed. Rape, destruction, permanent nightmare.
It is difficult to rate it so
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SONGS FOR MY FATHER 1 6 Dec 16, 2007 05:17PM  

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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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