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April 29

Poet Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947.

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Poet Yusef Komunyakaa was born in 1947.

Grades 8 – 12
Calendar Activity Type Author & Text





Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana on this day in 1947. His upbringing in the racially charged South and his tour in Vietnam in the 1970s prove to be the focal point of much of his poetry. Pieces from his war collection Dien Cai Dau, a Vietnamese term for American soldiers, meaning "crazy," are widely taught and include examples of vivid and devastating imagery. Winner of a Pulitzer Prize, Komunyakaa currently teaches creative writing at Princeton University.




Yusef Komunyakaa's poetry can be used in many ways in the classroom. One essential poetic element that can be closely examined in his work is imagery.

  • As you read aloud (or listen to, if you have the technology) the poem "Camouflaging the Chimera," ask students to underline words and phrases that create vivid pictures in their minds.
  • Have students rewrite one or two lines of the poem so that they are free from details. For example, the line, "We hugged bamboo & leaned against a breeze off the river" could be rewritten, as "We sat next to the river. There was a breeze." Then, in pairs, ask students to reread the poem with their changes. What has changed? What is lost?
  • Next, have students write down another line of the poem that is particularly effective. Collect their papers and redistribute one to each student. Have each student attempt to draw the image on a large piece of paper and explain its effect. Ask, "Why did the author include that line? What was he hoping to get the reader to feel?"
  • Display pictures and explanations in the classroom.



  • Yusef Komunyakaa

    This website contains several of Komunyakaa's poems with audio recordings, a brief biography, and links to articles on his work.


  • Yusef Komunyakaa, from the Academy of American Poets

    Biographical material and online poems, including one audio file, are available on this Poetry Exhibit from the Academy of American Poets.


  • Vietnam War Resources

    This extensive list of Web resources includes historical data, documentary coverage, references in popular culture, and more.


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Grades   3 – 5  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Wartime Poetry: Working With Similes

Students analyze a photograph, brainstorm words to describe the characters' senses and feelings, work in pairs to describe a character's experience, and create a poem using their ideas and similes.


Grades   6 – 8  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

In the Poet's Shoes: Performing Poetry and Building Meaning

Students take poetic license when they interpret William Carlos William's poem "The Red Wheelbarrow" to help create a poem of their own.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Standard Lesson

Building Vietnam War Scavenger Hunts through Web-Based Inquiry

Students research the effects of the Vietnam war on a specific group of people who were involved. They then create Internet scavenger hunts to share with the class.


Grades   9 – 12  |  Lesson Plan  |  Unit

Love of War in Tim O'Brien's "How to Tell a True War Story"

Students explore the theme of love of war through texts on camaraderie among soldiers. They then compose a visual collage depicting their beliefs about the relationship between love and war.