Raised in Louisiana, poet Yusef Komunyakaa says he "grew up with blues coming through the radio," and later became a fan of the music of Duke Ellington and Charlie Parker, who was known to be a fan of poetry.
So it's fitting that Komunyakaa's Hopkins appearance at Mudd Hall on Sunday, May 6, will feature his own jazz-inspired poetry as well as a prelecture performance of jazz--America's original music--by a Baltimore-based quartet.
Recently named a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets, Komunyakaa has been hailed by Kirkus Reviews for writing "American poetry at its visionary best." Komunyakaa's work ranges from songful lyric ("Blackberries") to stark history (the Vietnam War, where as a correspondent he earned a Bronze Star) to a libretto he wrote set to Charlie Parker's lightning riffs. Komunyakaa, a professor at Princeton, won the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his book Neon Vernacular: New and Selected Poems. Recent books include Talking Dirty to the Gods (2000) and Pleasure Dome: New and Collected Poems (2001).
Komunyakaa's work, while pleasing to the ear, can be challenging to the mind. His view of poetry, as told last year to The Writer's Chronicle, is that "the poem is not an emotional ad where everything is understood from the first to the last line. ... A poem seems to be more embracing when it avoids being an answer and, instead, poses an active question."
The Joshua Ringel Memorial Lecture has been given since 1998. A fund provided by the Ringel family supports an annual lecture in memory of Josh's appreciation of poetry, education and the imagination. Past presenters include Grace Paley and Robert Pinsky.
The series is co-sponsored by Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth, which Ringel attended as a teenager.
The doors at Mudd Hall, Homewood campus, open at 2:30 p.m. for jazz, to which the audience can listen casually prior to Komunyakaa's reading, which begins at 3 p.m. The performance, lecture and a post-reading reception with Komunyakaa are free and open to the public. For more information, call 410-516-0251.