Skip to content

Yusef Komunyakaa’s 13 books of poems include Warhorses (2008), Taboo (2004), and Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at New York University.

The Chameleon Couch: Poems

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
2012 Shortlist
United States

Judges’ Citation

Beneath these masks, and central to the success of these poems, is Komunyakaa’s singular voice: curious, doubtful, stubborn, damning and self-accusing, asserting itself against the never-tiring devastation wrought by history, its testimony ‘good as making a wager against the eternal hush.’

Alter egos, second selves figure largely in Komunyakaa’s new poetry collection, The Chameleon Couch. In The Hedonist, successive masks are donned and discarded to feed the speaker’s voracious appetite for experience, as throughout the book, personae are adopted – The Window Dresser, Adonis, Orpheus, the Ten or Eleven Disguises, a Mr. Decoy – to bear witness to the continual bartering of good and evil that comprise the fallen mythic world of the book’s vision. Both speaking from direct experience and with the collective scrutiny of our shared civilization, where ages and cultures overlap, in the ‘scuffle / between gods and human shadows,’ the poems roam contemporary streets to the edges of crumbling empires, where the restless ghosts of history still linger on the corner. Beneath these masks, and central to the success of these poems, is Komunyakaa’s singular voice: curious, doubtful, stubborn, damning and self-accusing, asserting itself against the never-tiring devastation wrought by history, its testimony ‘good as making a wager against the eternal hush.