Cover image for Talking dirty to the gods : poems
Talking dirty to the gods : poems
Komunyakaa, Yusef.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, [2000]

Physical Description:
134 pages ; 21 cm
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PS3561.O455 T35 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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No turn in any life cycle is taboo as Yusef Komunyakaa examines the primal rituals shared by insects, animals, human beings, and deities in Talking Dirty to the Gods. From "Hearsay" to "Heresy", these 132 poems, each consisting of four quatrains, are framed by innuendo and lively satire. Komunyakaa looks to nature and configures his own paradigm, in which an event as commonplace as the jewel wasp laying an egg in a cockroach becomes every bit as grand as Zeus's infidelity. The formally rigorous collection is itself a design for a systematic cosmos, a world compressed but abundant in surprise and delight.

Author Notes

Yusef Komunyakka's eleven books of poems include Thieves of Paradise, a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and Neon Vernacular, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at Princeton University and lives in New York City.

(Bowker Author Biography) Yusef Komunyakaa, April 29, 1947 - Yusef Komunyakaa was born April 24, 1947 in Bogalusa Louisiana, the oldest of five children. He graduated from Bogalusa Central High School in 1965 and joined the U.S. Army soon after. During his tour with the Army, Komunyakaa received a Bronze Star for his work as a correspondent and managing editor of the Southern Cross. Upon his return from the war, Yusef received his BA from the University of Colorado in 1975. He received his MA from Colorado State University in !978, and his MFA from the University of California at Irvine in 1980.

After his graduation from UC, Komunyakaa taught poetry in the New Orleans public school districts and then creative writing at the University of New Orleans. In 1985, he became an associate professor at Indiana University at Bloomington, where he held the Ruth Lilly Professorship from 1989 til 1990. He co-edited the Jazz Poetry Anthology and co translated "The Insomnia of Fire". Komunyakaa has written 13 books of poetry. In 1999, he was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and he is also a professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing Program at Princeton University.

Komunyakaa has won countless awards for his many poems. Among the most prestigious are The Dark Room Poetry Prize for "Dien Cai Dau", the San Francisco Poetry Award for "I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head", and a finalist position for the National Book Critics Circle Award for "Thieves of Paradise". As well as the William Faulkner Prize from the Universite de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize and fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. Perhaps the greatest of all of these achievements is the honor of having the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry bestowed upon him for Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems 1977 - 1989, along with the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award.

Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Komunyakaa, a much-awarded poet treasured for his jazzy inventiveness, empathy, and the resonance of his language, has written a remarkable set of 132 four-quatrain poems that erase the distinctions between nature, humanity, and the divine, and meld the past with the present. Life in all its spectacular variations inspires quirky ruminations on such earthy creatures as slime molds and hyenas, and such mythological beings as the centaur and Janus, the two-faced god. A priapic romp around an ancient Greek vase and a rollerblader grabbing a bumper of a Yellow Cab to glide through Central Park ignite Komunyakaa's imagination with equal force, just as banged-up objects in a junk shop speak as eloquently as a skull extracted from a violated tomb. Insects go about their business as they always have, and so do we, the poet observes, in spite of permutations in spiritual beliefs and technology. Like our ancestors, we suffer for love, look for cures, and torment each other, trying to forget that the maggot awaits, patient and voracious. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Komunyakaa's bodily frankness, his appealingly clipped rhythms and his darting intelligence all remain on display in his 11th book of poetry, a serious but always entertaining tour de force. All the poems take the same external form: four unrhymed quatrains each, in syncopated four-beat lines. These four by four by four-or-so verbal performances stick together to form an oblique and psychologically intricate antihistory of the human world, from Homo erectus to MTV. The poems keep up particular interests in sculpture; craft objects, from thumbscrews to valentines; sex; insects; and classical and comparative mythography. Polyphemus the Cyclops, Godzilla the movie, a full bill of Greek gods and ancient personages, the Renaissance artist Pollaiuolo, Rodin, W.E.B. DuBois, the minor Modernist martyr Harry Crosby, and (as Komunyakaa's devotees might expect) a team of jazz musicians stand among the large cast of characters. The star of most poems, though, is Komunyakaa as commentator, bringing his off-kilter attitudes and his considerable experience to bear wherever his focus falls. He tells a centaur how "Unholy/ Need & desire divide the season,/ As you eat sugar from a nymph's palm,/ Before she mounts & rides you into a man." The Venus of Willendorf displays "two fat gladiolus bulbs," "a hunk of limestone/ Shaped into a blues singer." Bedazzled by clashing consonants, "The Ides of March" asks "Which oak rafter/ Did this wasp nest cling to?" One of Darwin's finches "prances like God's little/ Torquemada on the highest rotten branch." A folk healer explains "I can't think ugly/ Since I deal in cosmic stuff." And Komunyakaa's "Castrato" asks himself "how to stop women/ From crying when I open my mouth." Scattered throughout the work are seven poems about, or anyway named for, the seven deadly sins ("Sloth" turns out to describe the animal). Komunyakaa (Dien Cai Dau; Thieves of Paradise), who teaches at Princeton, garnered a Pulitzer Prize in 1994 with Neon Vernacular; since then he's managed to stay both hip and difficult, oblique in his meanings and populist in his sounds. His latest work, which finds him jumping from longtime publisher Wesleyan to FSG, may be some of his best, and most various: it certainly will keep his readers on their toes. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Prize winner Komunyakaa attempts to filter a wide range of subjects through a single poetic form, lyric meditations built from four quatrains with individual lines of three to four stresses. Most showcase the wry, lightly acidic wit tinged with surrealism that has become his trademark, whether revealed in the monolog of a castrato ("I wish I knew how to stop women/ From crying when I open my mouth") or in the postmortem thoughts of Sylvia Plath ("I never wanted to be famous,/ But couldn't lift my head off/ The oven door"). Though ambitious, working in this constrained form over the course of 132 poems, creates pressure for terse resolution in the final quatrain, thus producing a number of stress fractures: poems that appear to end "in medias res" or that rush to hasty conclusions. The many Classical allusions and a relatively flat diction recall English editions of The Greek Anthology, and whether or not the effect is conscious, the poems often seem like translations: reserved, dispassionate, a little too careful. There are many virtues here, but they are best enjoyed in small doses.DFred Muratori, Cornell Univ. Lib., Ithaca, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.



Excerpt Hearsay Yes, they say if you shave a monkey You'll find a pragmatist, the president Of a munitions plant, a tobacco tycoon, Or a manufacturer of silicone breasts Who owns a medieval château Decorated with Picasso's Weeping Women & Madonna's underwear. Disguised In silver-winged motorcycle boots, He plucks a guitar with his teeth & teaches the peacock songs to draw the hawk To its nest. Injected with enough steroids To supernova into an overnight Star, he's the sperm bank's Most valuable donor. But contrary To what you may have heard, this Bellerophon, he isn't a great lover. Homo Erectus After pissing around his gut-level Kingdom, he builds a fire & hugs A totem against his chest. Cheetahs pace the horizon To silence a grassy cosmos Where carrion birds sing Darkness back from the hills. Something in the air, quintessence or rancor, Makes a langur bash the skull Of another male's progeny. The mother tries to fight him off, But this choreographer for Jacob & the Angel knows defeat Arrives in an old slam dance & applied leverage--the Evening Star In both eyes, something less than grace. Utetheisa Ornatrix the First Goddess Mottled with eyes, she's a snag Of silk from a blood orange Kimono. This moth, a proto- Goddess, flits about as if grafted To an uneasy moment. A little machine Inside, she coaxes every male to deposit Sperm, & weighs each with an unholy Exactitude. She can correct A mistake with metabolic Absolution. Only the biggest is Fertilized, & all the others grow Into nutrients for her. Food Defines them. Otherwise, They depend on promiscuous Wings to beat till their world Turns into light & sap. The Centaur Shape-changer caught in the middle Of rehearsal, here between beast & man, like a young Chiron, You pretend birthright, Hoping Atalanta's arrow Finds you on a lost path In bloom. Yes, sometimes, You can be loony as a drunken Stunt man in Paradise, a bit Of Theocritus's sad metaphysics In your bones. One half tortures The other for the romantic songs Crooned at sunset. Unholy Need & desire divide the season, As you eat sugar from a nymph's palm, Before she mounts & rides you into a man. Copyright (c) 2000 Yusef Komunyakaa. All rights reserved.