that war). The poems in that collection were spare and direct, often reflecting Komunyakaa's experience as a soldier, moving into metaphor or even surrealist associations when the reality the soldier experienced became overwhelming. It remains the best book of poems about the American experience of the Vietnam War.
Before that, Komunyakaa had written about his childhood in the Jim Crow South as well as poems that were both about jazz and used jazz techniques. That American form and its method of allowing wild riffs off an established line offer a useful way of understanding the kinds of imaginative jumps that have characterized American poetry for the last few decades, and Komunyakaa uses jazz as well as anybody.
A lesser writer would have been content with these large historical themes and a method that garnered national awards. But Komunyakaa, who reads at the U-M Museum of Art on Monday, October 25, has a more restless intelligence and an imagination that never seems to be satisfied. A decade ago he published Talking Dirty to the Gods, a collection of poems all in a very rigid form that allowed him to use history, classical references, observation of nature, and personal experience in a way that suggested an almost prophetic vision of the individual in history.