ChickenBones: A Journal

for Literary & Artistic African-American Themes


Home  ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)          


there's a kind of writing that's happening even when

I'm not facing the fearful white space of the page



Books by Yusef Komunyakaa

I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head / Dien Cai Dau / Magic City / Neon Vernacular / Toys in a Field

Thieves of Paradise / Talking Dirty to the Gods  /  Pleasure Dome Jazz Poetry Anthology  /  The Second Set  /  Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy

Blue Notes: Essays, Interviews, and Commentaries

*   *   *   *   *


Yusef Komunyakaa Speaks 

on the Art of Poetry

Excerpts from an Interview

with Elizabeth Cho


On Bogalusa

Well, in retrospect I realize that it [Bogalusa] is a place where I could discover the landscape. I remember my early rituals as being excursions out into the vegetation. It was a learning process for me because I was very inquisitive about everything but also I knew that there was a sort of violence overlaid with silence so....There was always talk of Klu Klux Klan activities. . . . Usually, we talk about the violence in urban centers around the country but I think the most exact and scary violence for me is really rural violence because of that immense silence.

Music & Silence

Music is important but I love silence. . . .We're talking about a different kind of silence, of course it's not silence to cover up anything. It's silence to become part of because I don't think we can have music without silence.

Jazz Beginnings

I remember my mother's. . . radio that was like a shrine, in a way, because it was huge, and I would ease behind the radio because I think it had what they call vacuum tubes in the radio and they glowed like bright invitations. I remember them being very hot, as well, because that was my first experience with fire but I was sort of mesmerized by the voice coming out of the box. . . .Usually the radio station was tuned to New Orleans so that was blues, jazz, gospel music, coming into. . .that early environment. . . . I realize that as far as jazz [goes], especially modern jazz, I probably moved away from Louisiana to experience modern jazz to experience Charlie Parker, Coltrane. My early experiences with jazz is considered classical jazz, traditional jazz.

It was difficult the first few times, I think, to connect to that new sound, but because of the music itself. . .there was also a magnet. So I listened to it over and over and I understood perfectly the link of modern contemporary jazz with traditional jazz what it came out of.

Sources of Inspiration

I have this feeling that everything is about literature and this by the fact that we observe what's around us. . . .we have to see what's around us in order to know what's happening to us because we're part of everything around us. . . .I think there's a kind of writing that's happening even when I'm not facing the fearful white space of the page. . . .It's informed by a certain kind of need and the need is informed by a certain kind of music so inspiration can be found. I wonder sometimes.

Carpentry & Writing

It was quite an interesting relationship because. . . I was taught a lot about human possibility. He was a carpenter and I learned. . . about precision how he would measure a board five or six times at home, always going back and forth, always trying to get it right and I think that in a way relates to my writing process, always revising.

On Writing Process

I write everything down. Initially, a poem perhaps could be a hundred and twenty lines long [and I will ] cut back to forty lines. So, I write in that way and I think that perhaps is related to jazz improvisation. But if we think about improvisation, it's not where everything flies apart it's where everything connects, driven by a certain kind of need and a certain kind of energy and passion.

[T]one is the barrack structure of the poem. . . .It automatically takes us back to the most traditional forms of literature because early poetry I think would have been free verse and then those structures and literary conceits imposed on the language and such. But I do think that one has to know what those so-called traditional forms are such as the sestina, sonnet, in order to break the rules.

Literary Beginnings

Yusef: In my graduating high school class, I raised my hand and volunteered to write a poem for my class. I'd never written a poem before but. . . I sat down and wrote a hundred lines and then I didn't write again for a long time. I kept reading poetry I wouldn't write poetry until I found myself at the University of Colorado in the arriving class in 1973, and I've been writing ever since.

I was too shy to read it [in high school]. The person who read it, [the Drama Club President] says she still has it and consequently she has promised to keep it a secret.

I remember very pat rhymes, traditional poetry. The English language isn't really given to sophisticated natural rhymes, which is entirely different from a Romance language.

I'd been reading a lot of the British poets, memorizing passages of Shakespeare, reading closely Tennyson but even closer reading of Blake and Hughes. . . .Hughes led me towards the Harlem Renaissance poets and [they] sort of led me to read earlier African-American poetry like Paul Laurence Dunbar.

What Is Poetry?

For me, it's really a process of discovery. It's not so much to answer questions but just to discover what the various possibilities are so it's a kind of a discourse with myself, often.

Source: Elizabeth Cho’s Interview (February 27, 1998) –

*   *   *   *   *

Mockingbirds at Jerusalem (poetry Manuscript)

*   *   *   *   *'s 25 Best Selling Books



#1 - Justify My Thug by Wahida Clark
#2 - Flyy Girl by Omar Tyree
#3 - Head Bangers: An APF Sexcapade by Zane
#4 - Life Is Short But Wide by J. California Cooper
#5 - Stackin' Paper 2 Genesis' Payback by Joy King
#6 - Thug Lovin' (Thug 4) by Wahida Clark
#7 - When I Get Where I'm Going by Cheryl Robinson
#8 - Casting the First Stone by Kimberla Lawson Roby
#9 - The Sex Chronicles: Shattering the Myth by Zane

#10 - Covenant: A Thriller  by Brandon Massey

#11 - Diary Of A Street Diva  by Ashley and JaQuavis

#12 - Don't Ever Tell  by Brandon Massey

#13 - For colored girls who have considered suicide  by Ntozake Shange

#14 - For the Love of Money : A Novel by Omar Tyree

#15 - Homemade Loves  by J. California Cooper

#16 - The Future Has a Past: Stories by J. California Cooper

#17 - Player Haters by Carl Weber

#18 - Purple Panties: An Anthology by Sidney Molare

#19 - Stackin' Paper by Joy King

#20 - Children of the Street: An Inspector Darko Dawson Mystery by Kwei Quartey

#21 - The Upper Room by Mary Monroe

#22 – Thug Matrimony  by Wahida Clark

#23 - Thugs And The Women Who Love Them by Wahida Clark

#24 - Married Men by Carl Weber

#25 - I Dreamt I Was in Heaven - The Rampage of the Rufus Buck Gang by Leonce Gaiter


#1 - Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention by Manning Marable
#2 - Confessions of a Video Vixen by Karrine Steffans
#3 - Dear G-Spot: Straight Talk About Sex and Love by Zane
#4 - Letters to a Young Brother: MANifest Your Destiny by Hill Harper
#5 - Peace from Broken Pieces: How to Get Through What You're Going Through by Iyanla Vanzant
#6 - Selected Writings and Speeches of Marcus Garvey by Marcus Garvey
#7 - The Ebony Cookbook: A Date with a Dish by Freda DeKnight
#8 - The Isis Papers: The Keys to the Colors by Frances Cress Welsing
#9 - The Mis-Education of the Negro by Carter Godwin Woodson

#10 - John Henrik Clarke and the Power of Africana History  by Ahati N. N. Toure

#11 - Fail Up: 20 Lessons on Building Success from Failure by Tavis Smiley

#12 -The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander

#13 - The Black Male Handbook: A Blueprint for Life by Kevin Powell

#14 - The Other Wes Moore: One Name, Two Fates by Wes Moore

#15 - Why Men Fear Marriage: The Surprising Truth Behind Why So Many Men Can't Commit  by RM Johnson

#16 - Black Titan: A.G. Gaston and the Making of a Black American Millionaire by Carol Jenkins

#17 - Brainwashed: Challenging the Myth of Black Inferiority by Tom Burrell

#18 - A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life's Purpose by Eckhart Tolle

#19 - John Oliver Killens: A Life of Black Literary Activism by Keith Gilyard

#20 - Alain L. Locke: The Biography of a Philosopher by Leonard Harris

#21 - Age Ain't Nothing but a Number: Black Women Explore Midlife by Carleen Brice

#22 - 2012 Guide to Literary Agents by Chuck Sambuchino
#23 - Chicken Soup for the Prisoner's Soul by Tom Lagana
#24 - 101 Things Every Boy/Young Man of Color Should Know by LaMarr Darnell Shields

#25 - Beyond the Black Lady: Sexuality and the New African American Middle Class  by Lisa B. Thompson

*   *   *   *   *

The Black Arts Movement
Literary Nationalism in the 1960s and 1970s

By James Edward Smethurst 

Emerging from a matrix of Old Left, black nationalist, and bohemian ideologies and institutions, African American artists and intellectuals in the 1960s coalesced to form the Black Arts Movement, the cultural wing of the Black Power Movement. In this comprehensive analysis, James Smethurst examines the formation of the Black Arts Movement and demonstrates how it deeply influenced the production and reception of literature and art in the United States through its negotiations of the ideological climate of the Cold War, decolonization, and the civil rights movement.

Taking a regional approach, Smethurst examines local expressions of the nascent Black Arts Movement, a movement distinctive in its geographical reach and diversity, while always keeping the frame of the larger movement in view. The Black Arts Movement, he argues, fundamentally changed American attitudes about the relationship between popular culture and "high" art and dramatically transformed the landscape of public funding for the arts.—Publisher, University of North Carolina Press

*   *   *   *   *

The Last Holiday: A Memoir

By Gil Scott Heron

Shortly after we republished The Vulture and The Nigger Factory, Gil started to tell me about The Last Holiday, an account he was writing of a multi-city tour that he ended up doing with Stevie Wonder in late 1980 and early 1981. Originally Bob Marley was meant to be playing the tour that Stevie Wonder had conceived as a way of trying to force legislation to make Martin Luther King's birthday a national holiday. At the time, Marley was dying of cancer, so Gil was asked to do the first six dates. He ended up doing all 41. And Dr King's birthday ended up becoming a national holiday ("The Last Holiday because America can't afford to have another national holiday"), but Gil always felt that Stevie never got the recognition he deserved and that his story needed to be told. The first chapters of this book were given to me in New York when Gil was living in the Chelsea Hotel. Among the pages was a chapter called Deadline that recounts the night they played Oakland, California, 8 December; it was also the night that John Lennon was murdered. Gil uses Lennon's violent end as a brilliant parallel to Dr King's assassination and as a biting commentary on the constraints that sometimes lead to newspapers getting things wrong. —Jamie Byng, Guardian / Gil_reads_"Deadline" (audio)

*   *   *   *   *

The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

*   *   *   *   *

Ancient African Nations

*   *   *   *   *

If you like this page consider making a donation

online through PayPal

*   *   *   *   *

Negro Digest / Black World

Browse all issues

1950        1960        1965        1970        1975        1980        1985        1990        1995        2000 ____ 2005        


*   *   *   *   *

The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery / George Jackson  / Hurricane Carter

*   *   *   *   *

The Journal of Negro History issues at Project Gutenberg

The Haitian Declaration of Independence 1804  / January 1, 1804 -- The Founding of Haiti 

*   *   *   *   *

*   *   *   *   *

ChickenBones Store (Books, DVDs, Music, and more)






update 3 February 2012 




Home  Literature and Arts    Yusef Table

Related files:   Yusef Speaks 2   Yusef Speak 3    Rudy Interviews Yusef   Other Yusef Poems  Talking Dirty/Blue Notes Review  Pleasure Dome/Talking Dirty