Synopses & Reviews
A Boston Globe
Best Poetry Book of 2011
A new and intimate collection from one of America's most important poets.
The latest collection from one of our preeminent poets, The Chameleon Couch is also one of Yusef Komunyakaa's most personal to date. As in his breakthrough work, Copacetic, Komunyakaa writes again of music as muse — from a blues club in the East Village to the shakuhachi of Basho. Beginning with “Canticle,” this varied new collection often returns to the idea of poem as hymn, ethereal and haunting, as Komunyakaa reveals glimpses of memory, myth, and violence. With contemplations that spring up along walks or memories conjured by the rhythms of New York, Komunyakaa pays tribute more than ever before to those who came before him.
The book moves seamlessly across cultural and historical boundaries, evoking Komunyakaa's capacity for cultural excavation, through artifact and place. The Chameleon Couch begins in and never fully leaves the present — an urban modernity framed, brilliantly, in pastoral-minded verse. The poems seek the cracks beneath the landscape, whether New York or Ghana or Poland, finding in each elements of wisdom or unexpected beauty. The collection is sensually, beautifully relaxed in rhetoric; in poems like “Cape Coast Castle,” Komunyakaa reminds us of his gift for combining the personal with the universal, one moment addressing a lover, the next moving the focus outward, until both poet and reader are implicated in the book's startling world.
The Chameleon Couch is a finalist for the 2011 National Book Award for Poetry.
“The Chameleon Couch proves itself an expertly crafted book from a poet peaking in his awareness and execution of all the tangled dialectics that manifest in his art, but also refuses to define, or divine like a prophet burned too many times by past certainty, what awaits us or any of our chosen chameleons or ghosts other than the ones we already know, which in Komunyakaa's hands, resonate perfectly across the wide swath of history.” Paul Corman-Roberts, The Rumpus
“This 14th collection from Komunyakaa does not wear its ostensible subject — how to continually reinvent life when the past constantly wells up within the present — on its sleeve. But over the course of these poems, Komunyakaa revisits his shared love of jazz with the poet William Matthews, an earlier ease with multiple lovers....The last poem, 'Ontology and Guinness' is at once a joyous celebration of Obama's election and an effortlessly self-elegizing cenotaph. That the poem, which also sings the praises of a certain stout, holds together at all is a testament to its maker's will and invisible skill.” Publishers Weekly
“Komunyakaa, who won the Pulitzer Prize for his 1993 Neon Vernacular, writes poetry that confronts the dark places of both national and personal history … The mix of violence and intimacy is sure to haunt the reader … yet a persistent hope in the possibility of healing exists throughout the book … Here hedonism is reimagined; music and love are valuable not because they offer escape, but because they contain the possibility of healing.” The Dallas Morning News
“In Yusef Komunyakaa's latest, The Chameleon Couch, the Pulitzer Prize-winner seamlessly blends the ancient and the modern...and the mythic and the personal....His winding lines and abundant use of ampersands recall Allen Ginsberg's jazzy riffs, and his bold proclamations (‘Tell your inheritors to think of me / when they smile up at the sky') are impressively Whitman-esque.” Newsday
“Komunyakaa puts his thoughts and images together with the utmost restraint; this is intricately conversation poetry devoid of exclamation marks or shouting....These are poems that emerge from a mythical core and yet sound magically contemporary.” The Antioch Review
About the Author
Yusef Komunyakaa's thirteen books of poems include Warhorses (FSG, 2008), Taboo (FSG, 2004), and Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at New York University.