In & Out of Time with Yusef Komunyakaa

by Alejandra Knoll

The following excerpt is from an interview in which Yusef Komunyakaa discusses The Chameleon Couch (his FOURTEENTH poetry collection) as well as his own evolution as a poet over the course of the career. It’s required reading as far as I’m concerned:

In The Chameleon Couch you say, “There isn’t a road my mind doesn’t travel.” I think that line invokes one of the traits I love most about your work—the way that you seem to effortlessly move across various moments in time, across different cities, and explore myths and history while remaining rooted in the present. Can you speak to this element of your work?

Time is personal and in that sense it is emotionally malleable, because it’s not linear but maybe circular or even fractured. I think the past can often register in the body as emotional experience. In this way, time can be thought of as psychological rather than physical. I think of music, those hunters singing before venturing out into the forest to confront their prey, which is often deadly. For me, it is not difficult to travel there, to actually be in that memory cave. That is the power of the imagination. For me, the present relates to the past and possibly to the future—perhaps because a sense of history is important to me. It allows me to engage the present with a certain kind of tangible reality, and in that sense, life for me is a matrix of convergences.

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