New York

In 1985, New York established a state poet laureate position, which is currently held by Alicia Ostriker who was elected in 2018 to a two-year term. Poets who have previously served in this role include Yusef Komunyakaa and Marie Howe. Throughout their term, the state poet laureate promotes and encourages poetry writing throughout New York by giving public readings and talks within the state. Ostriker is a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and the author most recently of Waiting for the Light (Pitt Poetry Series, 2017). 

In 2016, Rebecca Black was appointed the poet laureate of Albany, New York. Black is the author of Cottonlandia (University of Massachusetts Press, 2005), winner of the Juniper Prize for Poetry.

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New York poet laureaute
Yusef Komunyakaa

On April 29, 1947, Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where he was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star.

He began writing poetry in 1973, and received his bachelor's degree from the University of Colorado Springs in 1975. His first book of poems, Dedications & Other Darkhorses (R. M. C. A. J. Books), was published in 1977, followed by Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (Lynx House Press) in 1979. During this time, he earned his MA and MFA in creative writing from Colorado State University and the University of California, Irvine, respectively.

Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic (Wesleyan University Press), a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He followed the book with two others: I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (Wesleyan University Press, 1986), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize and has been cited by poets such as William Matthews and Robert Hass as being among the best writing on the war in Vietnam.

Since then, he has published several books of poems, including The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015); The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011); Warhorses (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008); Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part 1 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006); Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999 (Wesleyan University Press, 2001); Talking Dirty to the Gods (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000); Thieves of Paradise (Wesleyan University Press, 1998), which was a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award; Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (Wesleyan University Press, 1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award; and Magic City (Wesleyan University Press, 1992).

Komunyakaa's prose is collected in Blues Notes: Essays, Interviews & Commentaries (University of Michigan Press, 2000). He also coedited The Jazz Poetry Anthology (with J. A. Sascha Feinstein, 1991), cotranslated The Insomnia of Fire by Nguyen Quang Thieu (with Martha Collins, 1995), and served as guest editor for The Best of American Poetry 2003.

He has also written dramatic works, including Gilgamesh: A Verse Play (Wesleyan University Press, 2006), and Slip Knot, a libretto in collaboration with Composer T. J. Anderson and commissioned by Northwestern University.

About his poetry, the poet Toi Derricotte wrote for the Kenyon Review, "He takes on the most complex moral issues, the most harrowing ugly subjects of our American life. His voice, whether it embodies the specific experiences of a black man, a soldier in Vietnam, or a child in Bogalusa, Louisiana, is universal. It shows us in ever deeper ways what it is to be human."

Komunyakaa is the recipient of the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award. His other honors include the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. He has taught at University of New Orleans, Indiana University, as a professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. He lives in New York City where he is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University's graduate creative writing program.


Selected Bibliography
The Emperor of Water Clocks (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2015)
The Chameleon Couch (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011)
Warhorses (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2008)
Taboo: The Wishbone Trilogy, Part 1 (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2006)
Pleasure Dome: New & Collected Poems, 1975-1999 (Wesleyan University Press, 2001)
Talking Dirty to the Gods (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000)
Thieves of Paradise (Wesleyan University Press, 1998)
Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (Wesleyan University Press, 1993)
Magic City (Wesleyan University Press, 1992)
Dien Cai Dau (Wesleyan University Press, 1988)
I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (Wesleyan University Press, 1986)
Copacetic (Wesleyan University Press, 1984)
Lost in the Bonewheel Factory (Lynx House Press, 1979)
Dedications & Other Darkhorses (R. M. C. A. J. Books, 1977)

Yusef Komunyakaa

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Public Transportation

She is perfectly ordinary, a cashmere scarf
snugly wrapped around her neck. She is
a middle age that is crisp, appealing in New York.
She is a brain surgeon or a designer of blowdryers.
I know this because I am in her skin this morning
riding the bus, happy to be not young, happy to be
thrilled that it is cold and I have a warm hat on.
Everyone is someone other than you think
under her skin. The driver does not have
a peanut butter and jelly sandwich in his metal 
lunchbox. He has caviar left over from New Year's
and a love note from his mistress, whom he just left
on the corner of Sixth Avenue and 14th Street.
When she steps off his bus to take over the wheel
of the crosstown No. 8, she knows she is anything
but ordinary. She climbs under the safety bar
and straps the belt on over her seat. She lets
the old lady who is rich but looks poor take her time
getting on. She lets the mugger who looks like
a parish priest help her. She waits as we sit, quiet 
in our private, gorgeous lives.

Making Shelves

In that lit window in Bushwick
halfway through the hardest winter
I cut plexiglass on a table saw,
coaxing the chalked taped pane
into the absence of the blade,
working to such fine tolerance
the kerf abolished the soft-lead line.
I felt your eyes play over me
but did not turn—dead people
were not allowed in those huge factories.
I bargained: when the bell rang
I would drink with you on Throop
under the El, quick pint of Night Train
but you said no. Blood jumped

from my little finger, power
snapped off, voices summoned me
by name, but I waved them back
and knelt to rule the next line.

The Tropics of New York

Bananas ripe and green, and ginger root
     Cocoa in pods and alligator pears,
And tangerines and mangoes and grape fruit,
     Fit for the highest prize at parish fairs,

Sat in the window, bringing memories
     of fruit-trees laden by low-singing rills,
And dewy dawns, and mystical skies
     In benediction over nun-like hills.

My eyes grow dim, and I could no more gaze;
     A wave of longing through my body swept,
And, hungry for the old, familiar ways
     I turned aside and bowed my head and wept.