Monday, November 1, 2010

Aimless Reading: The K's, Part 24 (Yusef Komunyakaa)


Neon Vernacular
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Komunyakaa, Yusef
Neon Vernacular


Not sure about this one. Either it was:

a. Sent by the publisher
b. Given to me by the author
c. I took it from the Just Buffalo library before we sold it

It was inscribed on November 22, 1998, though not to me personally, which leads me to believe that "c" might be the case.

Anyway, I remember when he came to Buffalo. He read through Just Buffalo at Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center. He may have read with someone else, but I don't recall who that might have been. I think he also did an in-school visit through our education program. I took him to dinner one night at K. Gallagher's pub and also to breakfast one morning at the original Cybele's location on Elmwood Avenue.

I remember him being a very circumspect kind of guy. He would listen to what I was saying, quietly, then respond, often in terse, somewhat ambiguous phrases. We were talking one night about the anti-orality argument of language poetry and he said something about the avant-garde being elitist. But he didn't use that word. The word he used left the door open to a lot of interpretation. I can't remember what it was now. It might have been something like "privileged." I asked him to elaborate and he looked across the table at me, sort of sizing me up, then said he'd leave it at that.

He was interested in the argument about orality, I recall, and before he left asked for a copy of Robert Grenier's famous "I HATE SPEECH" essay. Mike Basinski made a copy for me in the Poetry Collection at UB, which I passed along. I never heard what he thought of it.

I met him one other time. I'd brought Ed Roberson to read and by a fluke Komunyakaa was also in Buffalo for a reading on the same night. The two knew each other and Ed seemed excited about the possibility of running into him.

Somehow, I found out Yusef would be at the hotel bar at the Holiday Inn, so we headed over there and had a late drink. There's something more to that story -- like how I knew Yusef would be in the bar at the Holiday Inn, but I can't recall the details.

from Neon Vernacular

Fog Galleon


Horse-headed clouds, flags
&pennants tied to black
Smokestacks in swamp mist.
From the quick green calm
Some nocturnal bird calls
Ship ahoy, ship ahoy!
I press against the taxicab
Window. I'm back here, interfaced
With a dead phosphorescence;
The whole town smells
Like the world's oldest anger.
Scabrous residue hunkers down under
Sulfur & dioxide, waiting
For sunrise, like cargo
On a phantom ship outside Gaul.
Cool glass against my cheek
Pulls me from the black schooner
One a timeless sea--everything
Dwarfed beneath the papermill
Lights blinking behind the cloudy
Commerce of wheels, of chemicals
That turn workers into pulp
When they fall into vats
Of steamy serenity.

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