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SATURDAY

It’s rare for me to be moved by a first encounter with a poet. But one subzero night in northern Ohio, I was. I had been polishing off the last of the winter whiskey with an alcoholic literature professor; as he was leaving the bar, he tossed me a worn copy of Yusef Komunyakaa’s Copacetic. “This stuff will change you,” he said, waving goodbye. It did. Komunyakaa’s fiercely honest poetry, drawn from the rhythms and cadences of jazz, was truly a revelation for me. His music began in Bogalusa, La., in 1947, with the radio, Louis Armstrong, and the Ku Klux Klan in the background. From there, Komunyakaa traveled to Vietnam, where he served as an information specialist and an editor for the military newspaper The Southern Cross. He began writing seriously in 1973, while studying at the University of Colorado. In his breakthrough book, Dien Cai Dau, Komunyakaa first began navigating memories of his childhood and the war, spinning out a series of eloquent and startling images. Komunyakaa has said, “[W]e are walking reservoirs of images. We take in everything, even what we’re not overly conscious of, it’s still there, pulsating in the psyche.” Lately the poet has been working on a new book (due out this fall), teaching at Princeton University, and reading with drummer Susie Ibarra in New York City. Hear him speak about what’s currently pulsating in his psyche at 4 p.m. Saturday, April 15, at Catholic University of America’s Hartke Theatre, 620 Michigan Ave. NE. Free. (202) 319-5600. (Andrew Katz)