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From Barnes & NobleOur Review
Talking Dirty to the Gods
Acclaimed poet Yusef Komunyakaa takes his brash rantings into a new historical fantasyland with his 11th book of poetry, Talking Dirty to the Gods. In this new work, Komunyakaa creates not only a fusion of new and ancient but an entire confusion of time from the days of Eden to the everyday blare of MTV.
The modus operandi of Komunyakaa's poetry is sheer movement in all directions. It does not linger on quiet moments but constantly shifts from insects to rollerbladers to Zeus with a vocabulary half-Princetonian and half-downtown Manhattan. The words do not ease into your head but create bold images that are just as quickly undermined by a change of geography or an allusion to some ancient kingdom.
All of the poems in this collection take the symmetrical form of four stanzas of four unrhymed quatrains. This tight form sharply contrasts with the junkyard-like world of fragments where Goya, sex toys, and old summer days all crowd into the imagination. Postmodernists will certainly be shaking this book joyfully in the air, with enough recycling of historical periods, surface-level shine, and flattening of values to spark a thesis or two. The poet has a love of names -- from Barnes & Noble to the Temple of Karnak -- that populate the intimacy of a scene as media-centered cultural icons are apt to do.
Komunyakaa finds his best material in the strange potpourri of contemporary culture where things familiar suddenly move from "Odysseus's dreamt map to a country/Of lotus-eaters, E-mail, & goof-off." It's a sort of creativity from the outside-in rather than from the inside-out. The poet is the commentator and artificial-world creator: "She believes a polka-dot bikini/Will resurrect Adonis."
The genius of Komunyakaa's poetry lies in the distant lives that come together on the same line and in the same imagination. Beneath the what-you-see-is-it entropy of contemporary life is a yearning to bring classical history, the natural world, street grit, and anything else into a many-as-one conception of existence. The most disparate elements come together again and again: "Joy, use me like a whore./Turn me inside out like Donne/Desired God to do with him." "I was young & black, with a heart/Dumb as Apollinaire's, daydreaming/My sperm inside her all afternoon." "Today, somewhere, a man/In his early seventies is lost/In a cluster of hills at dusk,/Kneeling beside a huckleberry bush."
Through all the varied beats, this new collection is further proof that Komunyakaa's rawness and schooled intelligence is a new language for the old pleasures and pains that now invade our lives all at once.