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Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa

Yusef Komunyakaa‘s Dien Cai Dau is another collection of Vietnam War poetry.  The poet, who received the Bronze Star and edited The Southern Cross, dedicates this book to his brother Glenn, “who saw The Nam before” Komunyakaa did.  His poems put the reader in the soldiers’ shoes, allowing them to camouflage themselves and skulk around the jungles of Vietnam from the very first lines of “Camouflaging the Chimera.”  Beyond skulking in the jungle, hunting the Viet Cong, Komunyakaa discusses the weight of war as soldiers trudge through the landscape with their equipment and what they’ve done and seen.  Weaving through the tunnels looking for the enemy or searching the thick forest, soldiers are constantly reminded of their emotional and physical burdens, though they find joy in some of the smallest moments.

One of the beautiful aspects of Komunyakaa’s poetry is his vivid sense of how even the most beautiful elements of nature have a darker side.  In “Somewhere Near Phu Bai,” Komunyakaa writes “The moon cuts through/the night trees like a circular saw/white hot.  . . .” and in “Starlight Scope Myopia,” he suggests, “Viet Cong/move under our eyelids,/lords over loneliness/winding like coral vine through/sandalwood & lotus/.”

Beyond the nature imagery and the immediacy of the war, some of these poems have an analytical quality much like a general planning out the battle moves.  Each move of the soldiers is reflected in the carefully chosen words and lines, and the effect is genuine, creating a suspense and fear readers would expect soldiers to experience.

A Greenness Taller Than Gods (Page 11)

When we stop,
a green snake starts again
through deep branches.
Spiders mend webs we marched into.
Monkeys jabber in flame trees,
dancing on the limbs to make
fire-colored petals fall.  Torch birds
burn through the dark-green day.
The lieutenant puts on sunglasses
& points to a X circled
on his map.  When will we learn
to move like trees move?
The point man raises his hand Wait!
We’ve just crossed paths with VC,
branches left quivering.
The lieutenant’s right hand says what to do.
We walk into a clearing that blinds.
We move like a platoon of silhouettes
balancing sledge hammers on our heads,
unaware our shadows have untied
from us, wandered off
& gotten lost.

Dien Cai Dau by Yusef Komunyakaa is an excellent collection that will allow readers to join the fight in Vietnam, feel the fear and anxiety of soldiers, and see just how many enemies soldiers faced — the Viet Cong and the jungle.  Komunyakaa is a poet with incredible insight from propelling emotions off the page through images to using carefully chosen words and phrases to vividly paint the scene.  Dien Cai Dau is one of the best poetry books about the Vietnam War and often reads like prose.

This is my 6th book for the 2010 Vietnam War Reading Challenge

This is my 8th book for the Clover Bee & Reverie Poetry Challenge.

  • I’m with Zibilee, war literature I’ve read but poetry? No. It’s interesting because of course my first thought about poetry is probably of romantic poetry. So, I wouldn’t think to read war poems (even though I know there are a lot of amazing poems about war). I think I need to expand my reading circle a bit more to include poetry like this. I might be surprised. Thank you for reviewing this one Serena.
    iliana´s last blog post ..Currently Reading

    • I’m glad that you enjoyed the review. I think you should read war poetry..it can be as powerful as romantic poems, though in a different way.
      Serena´s last blog post ..Free to a Good Home by Eve Marie Mont

  • I have read a lot of war literature, but have never read poetry about a war before. I loved the quotes you provided and think that this sounds like a really enriching and interesting read. Thanks for your lovely review of this book. I am going to have to try to find it!!
    zibilee´s last blog post ..Sugar by Bernice McFadden — 240 pgs

    • I think its a great poetry book…it also reads like prose…so it seems to tell some short stories.

  • Beth Hoffman

    Haunting and eerie and beautifully upsetting all at once. Loved it!

    • Thanks…you should check out the rest of this collection. Komunyakaa is a poet I cannot recommend enough.

  • This is probably my all-time favorite poetry collection.
    Anna´s last blog post ..Review- The Lace Makers of Glenmara by Heather Barbieri

    • I think Komunyakaa is one of the best poets in the world. I’ve loved most of his books, though I think I’m missing some. 🙂

  • Beautiful poetry. Thanks for posting this.

    • Thanks for checking it out. This is one of my favorite collections.