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This One Time, In ‘Nam…. Yusef Komunyakaa. By Alex Ferrer and Gillian Barta. Introduction. Yusef komunyakaa is one of the most prevalent American poets alive today.

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Yusef komunyakaa

This One Time, In ‘Nam…


By Alex Ferrer and Gillian Barta


  • Yusefkomunyakaa is one of the most prevalent American poets alive today

Background information
Background Information

  • Was largely shaped by his experiences in Vietnam and his child- hood

  • These became the main topics of his poems

  • He used poetry as an escape from his past


  • Born April 29th 1947 in Bogalusa, Louisiana

  • James William Brown

  • Oldest of 6 children

  • “Rustic and bucolic” childhood

  • Suffered racism (not allowed in library, KKK, racial violence, etc.)


  • Sent to Vietnam for war

  • Witnessed terrible events

  • Was sent back a changed man

  • Earned a bronze medal for his service


  • Graduated Magna cum Laude from the University of Colorado after his service (graduated in 1975, masters in 1978, and MFA at the University of California)

  • Now is a professor

  • Began to write poetry mainly about his experiences in Vietnam and after affects

Komunyakaa s style
Komunyakaa’s Style

  • Dark, gloomy, depressing

  • Futile tone

  • Uses tactile, kinesthetic, and visual imagery

  • Themes of battle and after battle (memorial)

  • Alludes to Vietnam often

  • Very political- tends to allude to people or issues today


  • One stanza

  • Usually narratives

  • Never rhymes

  • 1st person

  • Enjambment

  • Personification is used throughout

We never know
We Never Know

He danced with tall grass

for a moment, like he was swaying

with a woman. Our gun barrels

glowed white-hot.

When I got to him,

a blue halo

of flies had already claimed him.

I pulled the crumbed photograph

from his fingers.

There's no other way

to say this: I fell in love.

The morning cleared again,

except for a distant mortar

& somewhere choppers taking off.

I slid the wallet into his pocket

& turned him over, so he wouldn't be

kissing the ground.

  • .

Literary criticism
Literary Criticism

  • “Surprises”

  • “Fresh and Intriguing”

  • “Writes like a jazz musician”

  • “Confronts uncomfortable truths”

  • “Exhibits a pessimistic outlook on life”

Literary criticism1
Literary Criticism

  • “Predictable”

  • “Tightly controlled format”

  • “Progressive and experimental”

  • “Powerful yet exquisitely sensitive”

  • “Evokes feelings of tenderness and hope”

We agree
We Agree

  • “Confronts uncomfortable truths”

  • “Powerful yet exquisitely sensitive”

  • “Evokes feelings of tenderness and hope”

Facing it
Facing it

My black face fades,

hiding inside the black granite.

I said I wouldn't,

dammit: No tears.

I'm stone. I'm flesh.

My clouded reflection eyes me

like a bird of prey, the profile of night

slanted against morning. I turn

this way--the stone lets me go.

I turn that way--I'm inside

the Vietnam Veterans Memorial

again, depending on the light

to make a difference.

I go down the 58,022 names,

half-expecting to find

my own in letters like smoke.


I touch the name Andrew Johnson;

I see the booby trap's white flash.

Names shimmer on a woman's blouse

but when she walks away

the names stay on the wall.

Brushstrokes flash, a red bird's

wings cutting across my stare.

The sky. A plane in the sky.

A white vet's image floats

closer to me, then his pale eyes

look through mine. I'm a window.

He's lost his right arm

inside the stone. In the black mirror

a woman's trying to erase names:

No, she's brushing a boy's hair.

We disagree
We Disagree

  • “Predictable”

  • “Tightly controlled format”

  • “Exhibits a pessimistic outlook on life”

Yusef komunyakaa

Fast breaks. Lay ups. With Mercury's

Insignia on our sneakers,

We outmaneuvered the footwork

Of bad angels. Nothing but a hot

Swish of strings like silk

Ten feet out. In the roundhouse

Labyrinth our bodies

Created, we could almost

Last forever, poised in midair

Like storybook sea monsters.

A high note hung there

A long second. Off

The rim. We'd corkscrew

Up & dunk balls that exploded

The skullcap of hope & good

Intention. Bug-eyed, lanky,

All hands & feet . . . sprung rhythm.

We were metaphysical when girls

Cheered on the sidelines.

Tangled up in a falling,

Muscles were a bright motor

Double-flashing to the metal hoop

Nailed to our oak.

When Sonny Boy's mama died

He played nonstop all day, so hard

Our backboard splintered.

Glistening with sweat, we jibed

& rolled the ball off our

Fingertips. Trouble

Was there slapping a blackjack

Against an open palm.

Dribble, drive to the inside, feint,

& glide like a sparrow hawk.

Lay ups. Fast breaks.

We had moves we didn't know

We had. Our bodies spun

On swivels of bone & faith,

Through a lyric slipknot

Of joy, & we knew we were

Beautiful & dangerous.


Where is he now
Where is he now?

  • In 1989, he married Mandy Sayer, lasting for 10 years

  • His new partner, ReetikaVazirani, killed herself and their child

  • After teaching at Indiana University and Princeton, he now teaches at New York University