The Emperor of Water Clocks

Farrar. Oct. 2015. 128p. ISBN 9780374147839. $23. POETRY
The personae encountered in Pulitzer Prize winner Komunyakaa's latest collection (after The Chameleon Couch) span the length and breadth of the human enterprise, from Cleopatra to President Obama, from 19th-century whalers to contemporary protesters in Russia and Ferguson. Always aware of how history ("a tyranny of frescoes") is perceived and understood through the individual's consciousness ("our dream-headed, separate eternities"), Komunyakaa deftly maintains a personal focus no matter how ancient or distant his triggering subjects, resisting the sprawl of narrative exposition in favor of the lyric form's concision and compression, its capacity to contain "seasons of blossoms in a single seed." And scattered throughout, the poet's signature invocations of jazz masters—Dizzy Gillespie, Herbie Hancock, and others—provide resonant touchstones with his own life and times.
VERDICT Though ambitious in scope, Komunyakaa's globe- and time-traveling lyrics are disarmingly subtle and soft-spoken, intimate and candid, repaying multiple readings.
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