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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The Weary Blues

Droning a drowsy syncopated tune,
Rocking back and forth to a mellow croon,
     I heard a Negro play.
Down on Lenox Avenue the other night
By the pale dull pallor of an old gas light
     He did a lazy sway . . .
     He did a lazy sway . . .
To the tune o' those Weary Blues.
With his ebony hands on each ivory key
He made that poor piano moan with melody.
     O Blues!
Swaying to and fro on his rickety stool
He played that sad raggy tune like a musical fool.
     Sweet Blues!
Coming from a black man's soul.
     O Blues!
In a deep song voice with a melancholy tone
I heard that Negro sing, that old piano moan—
     "Ain't got nobody in all this world,
       Ain't got nobody but ma self.
       I's gwine to quit ma frownin'
       And put ma troubles on the shelf."

Thump, thump, thump, went his foot on the floor.
He played a few chords then he sang some more—
     "I got the Weary Blues
       And I can't be satisfied.
       Got the Weary Blues
       And can't be satisfied—
       I ain't happy no mo'
       And I wish that I had died."
And far into the night he crooned that tune.
The stars went out and so did the moon.
The singer stopped playing and went to bed
While the Weary Blues echoed through his head.
He slept like a rock or a man that's dead.

The Lower East Side of Manhattan

By the East River
of Manhattan Island
Where once the Iroquois
canoed in style—
A clear liquid
caressing another name
for rock,
Now the jumping
Stretch of Avenue D
housing projects
Where Ricans and Afros
Johnny Pacheco / Wilson Pickett
The portable radio night—
Across the Domino sugar
Neon lights of the Brooklyn shore

Window carnival of
megalopolis lights
From Houston Street
Twenty kids take off
On summer bikes
Across the Williamsburg
Bridge
Their hair flying
With bodega bean protein
Below the working class
jumping like frogs—
Parrots with new raincoats
swinging canes of bamboo
Like third legs
Down diddy-bop 6th Street
of the roaring Dragons
Strollers of cool flow

When winter comes they fly
In capes down Delancey
Past the bites of pastrami
Sandwiches in Katz's
Marching through red bricks
aglow dragging hind leg
Swinging arms
Defying in simalcas

Hebrew prayers inside
metallic containers
Rolled into walls
Tenement relic
Roofs of pigeon airports

Horse-driven carts
arrive with the morning
Slicing through the venetian
blinds
Along with a Polish English
Barking peaches and melons
Later the ice man a-cometh
Selling his hard water
cut into blocks
The afternoon a metallic
slide intercourses buildings
which start to swallow
coals down their basement
Mouths.

Where did the mountains go
The immigrants ask
The place where houses
and objects went back
Into history which guided
Them into nature

Entering the roots of plants
The molasses of fruit
To become eternal again,
Now the plaster of Paris
Are the ears of the walls
The first utterances in Spanish
Recall what was left behind.

People kept arriving
as the cane fields dried
Flying bushes from another
planet
Which had a pineapple for
a moon
Vegetables and tree bark
popping out of luggage
The singers of lament
into the soul of Jacob Riis
Where the prayers Santa Maria
Through remaining fibers
of the Torah
Eldridge Street lelolai
A Spanish never before seen
Inside gypsies.
Once Cordova the cabala
Haberdasheries of Orchard Street
Hecklers riddling bargains
Like in gone bazaars of
Some Warsaw ghetto.

Upward into the economy
Migration continues—
Out of the workers' quarters
Pieces of accents
On the ascending escalator.

The red Avenue B bus
disappearing down the
Needle holes of the garment
factories—
The drain of a city
The final sewers
Where the waste became antique
The icy winds
Of the river's edge
Stinging lower Broadway
As hot dogs
Sauerkraut and all
Gush down the pipes
of Canal

After Forsyth Park
is the beginning of Italy
Florence inside Mott
Street windows—
Palermo eyes of Angie
Flipping the big
hole of a 45 record
The Duprees dusting
Like white sugar onto
Fluffed dough—
Crisscrossing
The fire escapes
To arrive at Lourdes'
railroad flat
With knishes
she threw next to
Red beans.

Broome Street Hasidics
with Martian fur hats
With those ultimatum brims
Puerto Ricans supporting
pra-pras
Atop faces with features
Thrown out of some bag
Of universal race stew—
Mississippi rural slang
With Avenue D park view
All in exile from broken
Souths
The horses the cows the
chickens
The daisies of the rural
road
All past tense in the urbanity
that remembers
The pace of mountains
The moods of the fields.

From the guayaba bushels
outside of a town
With an Arowak name
I hear the flute shells
With the I that saw
Andalusian boats
Wash up on the beach
To distribute Moorish
eyes.

The Lower East Side
was faster than the speed
Of light
A tornado of bricks
and fire escapes
In which you had to grab
on to something or take
Off with the wayward winds—

The proletariat stoop voices
Took off like Spauldine
rubber balls
Hit by blue broomsticks
on 12th Street—
Wintertime summertime
Seasons of hallways and roofs
Between pachanga and doo-wop
A generation left
The screaming streets of
passage
Gone from the temporary
station of desire and disaster

I knew Anthony's
and Carmen
Butchy
Little Man
Eddie
Andrew
Tiny
Pichon
Vigo
Wandy
Juanito
Where are they?
The windows sucked them up
The pavement had mouths that
ate them
Urban vanishment
Illusion
I too
Henry Roth
"Call It Sleep."

Night Funeral in Harlem

     Night funeral
     In Harlem:

     Where did they get
     Them two fine cars?

Insurance man, he did not pay—
His insurance lapsed the other day—
Yet they got a satin box
for his head to lay.

     Night funeral
     In Harlem:

     Who was it sent
     That wreath of flowers?

Them flowers came
from that poor boy's friends—
They'll want flowers, too,
When they meet their ends.

     Night funeral 
     in Harlem:

     Who preached that
     Black boy to his grave?

Old preacher man
Preached that boy away—
Charged Five Dollars
His girl friend had to pay.

     Night funeral
     In Harlem:

When it was all over
And the lid shut on his head
and the organ had done played 
and the last prayers been said 
and six pallbearers
Carried him out for dead
And off down Lenox Avenue
That long black hearse done sped,
     The street light 
     At his corner
     Shined just like a tear—
That boy that they was mournin'
Was so dear, so dear
To them folks that brought the flowers,
To that girl who paid the preacher man—
It was all their tears that made
     That poor boy's
     Funeral grand.

     Night funeral
     In Harlem.