Taboo The Wishbone Trilogy, Part One; Poems

Yusef Komunyakaa

Farrar, Straus and Giroux



Trade Paperback

144 Pages



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With the allusive leaps and improvisational chops of a jazz soloist, Yusef Komunyakaa is our great poet of connectivity—the secret blood that links slave and master, explorer and native, stranger and brother. In Taboo he examines the role of blacks in Western history, and how these roles are portrayed in art and literature. In taut, meticulously crafted three-line stanzas, Rubens paints his wife looking longingly at a black servant; Aphra Behn writes Oroonoko "as if she'd rehearsed it/for years in her spleen"; and in Monticello, Thomas Jefferson is "still at his neo-classical desk/musing, but we know his mind/is brushing aside abstractions/so his hands can touch flesh." Taboo is the powerful first book in a new trilogy by a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet whose work never ceases to challenge and delight his readers.


Praise for Taboo

"[Yusef Komunyakaa] has a near-revelatory capacity to give himself over to his subject matter and to the taut concision of his free verse . . . Dazzling."—David Wojahn, Poetry

"Komunyakaa wonderfully achieves the combined mischief and moralizing of Catullus, one of his acknowledged heroes . . . He refuses to be trivial; and he even dares beauty."—April Bernard, The New York Times Book Review

"[Taboo] calls to mind Emily Dickinson and Walt Whitman—the private gaze and the civic drum, purifying language, purifying history."—Darryl Lorenzo Wellington, The Washington Post Book World

"Komunyakaa, a master of restraint, uses form to concentrate deep emotions, and the ancient stories of Greece, Rome, and Africa, as well as works of art, to reveal the lineage of our own tragedies. In his last collection, Talking Dirty to the Gods, he limited himself to poems constructed of four-line stanzas. Here, in the first volume in his planned Wishbone trilogy, he writes in electrifying tercets as he pays homage to men and women caught in the cruel paradoxes of racism and the grinding wheels of history. Komunyakaa offers no background information, leaving it up to the reader to puzzle together carefully arranged shards, fragments, and remnants to discern the identities of the historic figures he portrays, which include 'Monticellan Sally' and Jeanne Duval, the beloved, respectively, of Jefferson and Baudelaire; the artist Edmonia Lewis; Thomas McKeller, an elevator operator who posed for John Singer Sargent; Ralph Ellison; and Satchmo. Glinting mosaics, Komunyakaa's poems—potent works of empathy, scholarship, and imagination—poignantly reclaim those who braved the treacherous borderland between white and black."—Booklist

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Yusef Komunyakaa

  • Yusef Komunyakaa's eleven books of poems include Talking Dirty to the Gods and Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems, for which he received the Pulitzer Prize. He teaches at Princeton University.

  • Yusef Komunyakaa © Tom Wallace