Summer reading: Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems

Book cover for Neon VernacujlarNeon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems
Yusef Komunyakaa

In this Pulitzer Prize-winning collection, Yusef Komunyakaa interweaves history and memory. With inventive language and raw emotion, Komunyakaa tackles varying subjects from the Vietnam War, to the Jonestown massacre, to jazz greats, to his childhood in Bogalusa, Louisiana. As readers, we embed with soldiers in Vietnam (“we held our breath,/ready to spring the L-shaped/ambush, as a world revolved/under each man’s eyelid”); we mourn the passing of Thelonious Monk (“Tonight’s a lazy rhapsody of shadows/swaying to blue vertigo/& metaphysical funk”); and we witness, from a son’s point of view, his complicated relationship with his father: a man who uses “wire/& sunlight to train/The strongest limbs,” who “hated my books,” but who “steered us through the flowering/Dogwood like a thread of blood.” Komunyakaa challenges us to gaze with unflinching clarity and deep introspection at the past—of singular people and of the nation–and to fashion guides for moving forward from what we observe and learn. “Hard love, it’s hard love,” he writes in Copacetic Mingus, and reminds us, as he closes Corrigenda, “If you must quote me, remember/I said that love heals from inside.”

Curriculum Coordinator
Centers for Educational Equity and Excellence (CE3)

This book is part of the 2021 Berkeley Summer Reading List. View this book on Overdrive. Stay tuned for more weekly posts!