Komunyakaa’s Everyday Mojo

Everyday Mojo Songs of Earth: New and Selected Poems, 2001-2021
by Yusef Komunyakaa
(FSG, June 2021, 288 pp., $35)

One aspect crucial to understanding the importance of Yusef Komunyakaa’s poetry of the last twenty years is its fastidious attendance to histories and mythologies both familiar and obscure. As Komunyakaa acknowledges, the poet’s role is like that of “a magpie collecting every scrap / of song.” For Komunyakaa, poetry not only preserves the past, it creates it. Poetry recalls often forgotten traditions and beliefs, offering these not as alternatives, not as supreme fictions, but as talismans against forgetting. The Great Migration, the Hindu Trimurti, Chet Baker huffing gasoline, the birth of the centaurs, Saint Kinga’s cathedral of salt, Napoleon’s penis, Christ and Mohamed—each figure gets shuffled through the divination deck of this book, which follows Komunyakaa’s first “New & Selected,” Neon Vernacular (1994), as well as Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999 (2001). It makes for essential reading.

Poetry in the Age of Superior Television Drama: A Review of Don Paterson’s Zonal

Zonal
by Don Paterson
(Faber & Faber, 2020, 64 pp. £14.99)

What does poetry do? What place does it have in the early 21st century anglophone world, this “age,” as Don Paterson puts it, “of superior television drama”? What singular function might it serve as distinct from, say, those other superior amusements of videogames, jazz, podcasts, World Cup soccer, graphic narratives, or haute cuisine? As a major stylistic departure from Paterson’s previous collections of concise, formally assured, and more generically traditional lyrics, Zonal insists readers at least recognize that such hulking ontological questions are being entertained.