Posts Tagged ‘Komunyakaa’

Gender and War

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Much of Komunyakaa’s poetry has been making me think of (what else but) a JSTOR article I read last fall in a history class on the U.S. and Vietnam: Missing in Action-Women Warriors in Vietnam. The article focuses on American women who served with the U.S. military and their experiences both during the war and after. Such stories still aren’t considered part of the war’s history (in fact, my class spent about 50 minutes out of the entire semester covering American and Vietnamese women involved the conflict). The author questions why stories of American female Vietnam veterans are generally unrecognized by male veterans, provided inadequate healthcare, and ignored in the historiography about the conflict.

To answer that question, the author looks at the American “myth of war,” and its deep links to masculinity and silencing.

“A culture of war, especially one that seeks to perpetuate itself, has nothing to gain and everything to lose by changing that mythology and acknowledging the experiences of woman Vietnam veterans. To admit that women serve and suffer in war is to destroy the claim to special male knowledge and all the privileges it brings. To admit that women have been in danger and died is to contradict the myth that women need to be protected. Most of all, to hear the stories of combat nurses is to contradict the myth of war’s glory itself” (89-90).

Just ideas to keep in mind as we read.

Source: “Missing in Action: Women Warriors in Vietnam” by Carol Lynn Mithers.
Cultural Critique, No. 3, American Representations of Vietnam (Spring, 1986). pages 79-90. University of Minnesota Press.

“You and I Are Disappearing”

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Okay, I felt the need to rant because I am madly in love with this poem and Komunyakaa in general. I wish our discussion today could have continued because it is so interesting to me the different ways that this poem can be read! I love how some of the images of burning are fake or not literally burning, like dry ice, foxfire, and a shot of vodka. I also am swooning over the last line: “She burns like a burning bush driven by a godawful wind.” To me, this is Komunyakaa being cynical about the purpose of all of these innocent Vietnamese people having to die. Unlike Moses, who received a message from the burning bush and ultimately, the Ten Commandments, there was no distinct message in this girl’s death. He is commenting upon the fact that she burned but to what purpose? He portrays this frustration and confusion by calling the wind “godawful,” which is also a play on words considering that God spoke to Moses through the burning bush. Anyway, just a bit of ranting and obsession about this poem!

God’s Perceception

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

I’m still a little hung up on Komunyakaa’s poem “Looking a Mad Dog Dead in the Eyes.” I’m probably stretching or reading into this too much, but I still think the speaker is describing god’s perspective as well as the way things look from god’s perspective. The speaker has come to admire the “never-miss sniper on the rooftops” because he has adopted a god-like role – ending lives from afar with only the pull of a trigger. The speaker also describes a “man who dances in circles,” and has “fistbeaten a dog to the ground” (lines 7-8). The image is more graphic than the first, and the violence is a little less removed. The images described by the speaker get progressively more violent and more graphic, until finally the speaker admits that “the young man with a nail in his foot / is your son, who believes / he’s Christ” (lines 13-15). To me, this was the speaker saying that for all intensive purposes that the audience watching this young man is god. The young man says what god “wants to hear,” but I think he’ll ultimately die. Komunyakaa is describing god’s callous perspective when it comes to life and death and how man too can see things in a similar removed way – even when the violence is right in front of us. Because death eludes god, he probably just sees it as energy being recycled. I hope that made sense? Comment if you don’t understand and I’ll do my best to clarify.

Dying/in love with Komunyakaa

Sunday, March 31st, 2013

Okay, so if there is one thing to always remember about me, it is that Eliot and Ginsberg are in an eternal war over my poem-lovin’ heart… only they’re both dead and neither one of them will ever know it. Which is why I don’t feel so bad about cheating on them with Komunyakaa… because I’m definitely falling in love with his poetry, too.

I’m actually embarrassingly emotional about this right now, so I won’t go into too much detail about it, except to say that piece after piece, I keep noticing his line breaks more than anything else… in a very good way! I think “Jasmine” in particular provides an excellent example of this: if you get a chance, go back and check out the line breaks of “I thought my body had forgotten the Deep/South…” (4-5); “My mind is lost among November/cotton flowers…” (12-13); and “The trumpet’s almost kissed/by enough pain…” (23-24). They’re really exceptional, in my humble opinion.

While you’re still messing with “Jasmine,” by the way, you should totally check out “Duke” and “Basie,” a.k.a. the famous jazzers Komunyakaa is referencing in this particular piece. Duke Ellington and Count Basie were two super-influential jazz pianists, and if you don’t know what they sound like, you should seriously look ’em up. 🙂 Additionally, “Clifford’s/shadow” refers to Clifford Brown (I’m guessing), who was a brilliant up-and-coming jazz trumpeter who died way too early as a passenger in a car accident, shocking and devastating the jazz world. He was incredible, too, and would have definitely had a stunning career if not for his death, hence the “shadow” and “ghosts” in the poem. Just fun jazz facts for your musical edification. 🙂

Also, “Returning the Borrowed Road” totally killed me, if not for the sole reason that my dad is spending a lot of time in Missoula, Montana, nowadays. It just really hit home.

I can’t WAIT to talk about him/all of this tomorrow.