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Blue Notes offers an assortment of poet Yusef Komunyakaa's writing on contemporary poetry and music. The book is arranged in four sections. The first gathers essays on the work of poets and blues and jazz musicians influential to Komunyakaa's work, from Langston Hughes and Etheridge Knight to Ma Rainey and Thelonious Monk; the second collects a gallery of Komunyakaa's poems and the poet's commentary about each of them. The third selects interviews that reveal the development of the poet's aesthetic sensibility. The final section consists of four artistic explorations that reflect the poet's current interests. Two of of these texts, "Tenebrae" and "Buddy's Monologue," have been recently performed.
As editor Radiclani Clytus makes clear in the volume's introductory essay, although Komunyakaa's poetry has its roots in the stylistic innovations of early twentieth-century American modernists, his writing often reflects his understanding that a "black" experience should not particularize the presentation of one's art. This volume, according to the editor, is an attempt to understand Komunyakaa's critical eclecticism within the context of his own words.
"Komunyakaa's commentary on his own work is where the book is most revealing. He talks about how he structures his poetry, how jazz and the blues influence the rhythm of his work, what spiritual paths interest him, and ultimately how being black allows his work to stand deep within the American grain, as both creator and critic."
—Black Issues Book Review, July-August 2000
". . . Komunyakaa's story, as related in candid interviews and learned, loving tributes to writers like Langston Hughes and Etheridge Knight, is a concise and compelling education on poetry, as well as race, politics, gender issues and music. . . . . Most importantly, Komunyakaa opens his heart and mind when describing his compositional habits and techniques. . . . Here, in passionate and clear language, is the vital link between Komunyakaa's verse and his poetics, urgent proof that poets can still work with the body as much as the mind. Indeed, in both his prose and poetry, Komunyakaa consistently embraces the furious, sublime possibilities of the intellect and the flesh. . . ."
—Michael Shannon Friedman, Charleston (WV) Gazette-Mail, April 2, 2000
"The gathering together of materials in Blue Notes is a service to devoted readers of Yusef Komunyakaa and to those who need a little extra information to get a handle on the work of this allusive, elusive, and rewarding poet. I recommend this volume whole-heartedly."
—Angela M. Salas, Adrian College, H-Net Reviews in the Humanities & Social Sciences, October 26, 2000
". . . the Pulitzer Prize-winning poet faces jazz dead on, not only as a distant, venerated tenth muse but also, as the title of his book would suggest, as an integral aspect of his everyday life. . . . Komunyakaa writes blue notes that not only read but hear as well."
—David Yaffe, Oxford American, July-August, 2000
". . . balances the polemical with the poetic, pairing verse with more prosaic self-interpretations. "
—David Yaffe, Village Voice, May 2, 2000