Yusef Komunyakaa at The Phillips Collection (2012)

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For the O.B. Hardison Poetry Series 2012, Yosef Komunyakaa read his work in response to images from the exhibition Snapshot at The Phillips Collection. This event was cosponsored by the Collection and took place there on February 9th.

Snapshot: Painters and Photography, Bonnard to Vuillard

Known primarily as painters and printmakers, a group of post-impressionist artists experimented with photography for their private use, interpreting the new medium and producing surprising, inventive results. This exhibition debuts many previously unpublished photographs taken by painters including Pierre Bonnard, Felix Vallotton, and Edouard Vuillard with the hand-held Kodak during the 1890s. Approximately 200 photographs, 40 paintings, and 60 works on paper integrate the histories of painting and photography and explore the inspiration afforded by the new medium in such subjects as domestic interiors, city streets, nudes, and portraiture. Organized by The Phillips Collection, the Van Gogh Museum, and the Indianapolis Museum of Art. At the Phillips from February 4 to April 29, 2012.

Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa is a wordsmith and a magician, weaving spells with each deft and consummate line. Komunyakaa is the author of 13 poetry collections, including The Chameleon Couch, Taboo, Warhorses, and Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, for which he won the Pulitzer Prize and a Kingsley Tufts Prize. Most recently, he was awarded the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, in which he received a $100,000 prize for his mastery in the art of poetry. Komunyakaa has also written Gilgamesh: A Verse Play and Slip Knot, a libretto. He was elected a Chancellor of The Academy of American Poets in 1999 and is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University's graduate creative writing program.

In his collection The Chameleon Couch, a 2011 National Book Award in Poetry finalist, Komunyakaa turns his gaze to both small, private moments and issues that affect millions as life takes him around the globe. As The Washington Post writes, “History, mythology and music sometimes shape these sophisticated poems, as do the speaker’s graceful language and vast intelligence. The book touches upon everything from mortality and crumbling relationships to the Holocaust and American standards of beauty. Yet whatever the subject, or how painful the loss, Komunyakaa deftly guides readers because he is more than just a witness.”


From "Black Figs"*

Because they tasted so damn good, I swore I’d never eat another one, but three seedy little hearts beckoned tonight from a green leaf-shaped saucer, swollen with ripeness, ready to spill a gutty sacrament on my tongue. Their skins too smooth to trust or believe. . .

  • Excerpted from The Chameleon Couch by Yusef Komunyakaa. Published in April 2011 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux, LLC. Copyright © 2011 by Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.