August 19, 2014

A CONVERSATION BETWEEN YUSEF KOMUNYAKAA AND ALAN FOX

November 28, 1997

Yusef Komunyakaa was born in Bogalusa, Louisiana, where he was raised during the beginning of the Civil Rights movement. He served in the United States Army from 1969 to 1970 as a correspondent, and as managing editor of the Southern Cross during the Vietnam war, earning him a Bronze Star. Komunyakaa first received wide recognition following the 1984 publication of Copacetic, a collection of poems built from colloquial speech which demonstrated his incorporation of jazz influences. He followed the book with two others: I Apologize for the Eyes in My Head (1986), winner of the San Francisco Poetry Center Award; and Dien Cai Dau (1988), which won The Dark Room Poetry Prize. Since then, he has published several books of poems, including Neon Vernacular: New & Selected Poems 1977-1989 (1994), for which he received the Pulitzer Prize and the Kingsley Tufts Poetry Award. Komunyakaa is the recipient of the 2011 Wallace Stevens Award, the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, the William Faulkner Prize from the Université de Rennes, the Thomas Forcade Award, the Hanes Poetry Prize, fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, the Louisiana Arts Council, and the National Endowment for the Arts. He was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 1999. He has taught at University of New Orleans, Indiana University, as a professor in the Council of Humanities and Creative Writing Program at Princeton University. He lives in New York City where he is currently Distinguished Senior Poet in New York University’s graduate creative writing program.

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FOX: Who do you see as the audience for your work?

KOMUNYAKAA: Initially, of course, I write for myself. I think most authors do, but in giving readings throughout the United States it’s quite open, so I’m willing to keep surprising myself. I don’t specifically write for a single individual in mind. I basically deal with images. The poet deals with images, metaphors and language like it’s music. Consequently, it has a possibility of connecting to a variety of people.

FOX: When you give readings is there any generalization as to the type of audience or response or the type of your poetry they respond to?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, it’s quite varied. Young and old, educated, unlettered. There’s a whole spectrum, I think, and I’m quite blessed, perhaps, in that sense. It becomes a challenge for me as a writer to connect to those various communities and conjure some emotional intersection.

FOX: Do you find that the poetry audience has changed over the past ten or twenty years in the United States?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think there are more readings and people are aware of the oral tradition and poetry’s connection to that tradition. Not as entertainment but as a place of, at least you could say, a place of meditation. There are readings all over the place from bars to University centers and art centers, that’s healthy actually, but its not confined to one location or one intellectual group as such, but essentially it parallels a democratic tableau. And in that sense, one thinks about William Carlos Williams’ idea about achieving an American idiom. I think that’s important. But one also thinks, of course, of Whitman, Whitman’s need for a democratic premise operating in the language, underlying each metaphor.

FOX: Some people find a distinction between what they refer to as academic poetry and the poetry of the street. I see you smiling.

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, I don’t really see a distinctive difference. I feel the poet has to be aware of what’s around him or her. So I think that involves the academic arena as well as the so-called streets. I think it’s all one, part of human experience. I think that it all merges, that it overlaps, that we tend to create at least psychological bridges between those places and that’s a voice that we risk in poetry. I think that’s the reason Plato questioned the service of the poet in his ideal republic. We trouble the waters, we tend to pose questions, and perhaps poets are really the active philosophers in this time and age. Of course we’re, hopefully, but not necessarily, attempting to answer questions as much as posing questions, where the listener or the reader provide the answers through a process of elimination, through deductive logic.

FOX: When did you start writing poetry?

KOMUNYAKAA: I wrote my very first poem in high school. I found myself raising my hand saying that I could write a poem for my graduating class and I agonized about that for weeks before I actually pinned myself down to the chair and produced 100 lines, 25 traditional rhymed quatrains, perhaps influenced by Tennyson or Longfellow. It was quite a surprise for me. Then when I went to Vietnam I took with me two anthologies of poetry, Hayden Carruth’s Anthology entitled, The Voice That Is Great Within Us, and then Allen’s Anthology, Contemporary American Poetry. So I’d read poetry for the most part. When I attended the University of Colorado, I found myself in a creative writing class in 1973, and I’ve been writing ever since.

FOX: What encouraged you? What made you stick with it?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, I tend to think that one has to have a need in order to do what one does.

FOX: How?

KOMUNYAKAA: I had the need to write but, also, I received some positive encouragement early on from Dr. Alex Blackburn, who was my first creative writing teacher at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs. I really think that poetry has, or art itself, has to have surprises. First it has to surprise the person who’s creating it in order to surprise the audience.

FOX: One winner of the Nobel Prize for literature was asked by the media what he thought about winning the Nobel Prize and he said, “I don’t know, I haven’t written about it yet.” Is that what you’re talking about?

KOMUNYAKAA: Yes, I think that’s the positive energy that comes out of that experience, that meditation on possibility. That’s really what the poem is. That’s a plus sometimes. I laugh out loud. Damn, where did that come from, but besides the matrix of surprises, engagement, evolution, all of this becomes a composite.

FOX: As a writer, how do you know that you’re a poet and not a novelist or a short story writer or all of these?

KOMUNYAKAA: It’s the form of the poem, the aesthetic. However some novelists have started off as poets. Faulkner poems are not as interesting, of course, as his novels. But I think it’s interesting that he did start off as a poet. Or look at Tennessee Williams’ work as poetry. His poetry, of course, isn’t as provocative as his plays. Amiri Baraka started off as a poet, long before he wrote The Dutchman. Baraka says that every poet should be a playwright. In a way I’m drifting towards plays myself. I read a whole lot of literature, of course, especially short stories, novels. I like reading plays as much as seeing plays produced.

FOX: How do you go about teaching poetry?

KOMUNYAKAA: First, I do believe that the young writer has to have some idea about the tradition in order to become innovative. So I end up teaching literature as well as Creative Writing. I do think that writing is intricately connected to reading, so automatically I help students compile their individual reading lists. And I tell them it’s not just reading literature as well as reading a science text, philosophy, history, psychology, anthropology, everything. I do think that one has to have a work habit as well. He or she should write every day, so I talk about that. I talk about my method of composition, not dictate it to them. I tell them they must choose their method of composition. I tell them I write everything down, and then I systematically go back and revise. Revision is so important. Revision basically means to re-see. So I talk about that, the ability to come back to the poem again and again to refine it into, not necessarily an artifact as such, but something that is in motion, something that has action as part of its dynamic. And I tell them, don’t be afraid to surprise themselves.

FOX: That’s a very good point. Do you have any source of inspiration for young poets?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think everything around them should be a source of inspiration. If we are really engaged with the world, it can be the small things, those things that we think of as insignificant. It can be a meditation on something as basic as a maggot, which I have a short poem about. Usually many poets start out with those grand abstractions—victory, truth. I tell them, yes they can wrestle with those grand abstractions, but don’t be afraid to face the world that they can put their hands on.

FOX: Who are some of your favorite authors.

KOMUNYAKAA: Oh, it goes and goes, [laughs] but I usually say Robert Hayden is a very important voice for me. Gwendolyn Brooks is important. Michael Harper, Whitman, Blake is important. I tend to go back to Shakespeare and especially since he had such an intense, monumental imagination. I admire that. And also he was able to put his fingers on some things that were quite contemporary. Elizabeth Bishop is important. I can go on and on. So many voices: C.K. Williams, Charles Wright, Pablo Neruda, Pushkin.

FOX: What was the role of your Vietnam experience in your writing?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, it took me fourteen years to really come to that experience. I sort of internalized the pathos of the Vietnam conflict. I was there for a year, ‘69 to ’70, and six months in ’70 and was renovating a house in New Orleans in 1984 and I found myself writing a poem entitled “Somewhere Near Phu Bai.” That poem came as I was moving up and down the ladder. I had a pad of paper on the floor writing down a few lines, and I found myself writing that particular poem. It just opened that experience for me as poetry, as images, because it came back to me in images. It was a sort of excavation and I suppose it happened at the right time. If it had happened earlier, perhaps it would have come out differently.

FOX: So then it incubated inside for a period of time?

KOMUNYAKAA: Yes.

FOX: When you sit down to write, do you have an idea to start with?

KOMUNYAKAA: I usually have an image, sometimes no more than a word, that I meditate on to improvise on. For me, jazz is important. It has taught me a lot about method of composition. I like to have everything set, by an improvisational tone. That’s why I write everything down. Initially a poem might start off 120 lines long and it ends up about 40 lines or even less.

FOX: So initially you don’t want to censor.

KOMUNYAKAA: Right. I just want to go with it. I just want to see just how I can extend a moment of improvisation.

FOX: How do you know when a poem is finished?

KOMUNYAKAA: Often we don’t know. [both laugh] But we wrestle with it. Often I’ve realized that one perhaps goes past the ending of a poem. I like to have a poem open-ended. So I’ll put a sheet of paper at the bottom of a poem I’ve started working on, to see just what the possible endings are. If there are three or four endings, which is the most important for me? Which ending helps the reader or the listener enter and become an active participant in the creation of meaning?

FOX: What effect has winning the Pulitzer Prize had on your writing or your life?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, I was lucky because I was midway into some ongoing projects, books of poems, collections, I should say. That’s the way I write. Usually I’m writing three collections, side by side. So it didn’t really stop me in my tracks.

FOX: Do you find it’s interfered in terms of more readings and more demands on your time?

KOMUNYAKAA: I’d already begun to read a lot. I’ve done a lot of readings especially after the Pulitzer. But I think reading is one way of bringing poetry back to oral tradition. So it is sharing more than anything else. I taught poetry in the schools, in New Orleans for a year, that’s one of the things that I told third graders and fourth graders, at the onset that poetry has to be a sharing. It’s a way of sharing a voice.

FOX: In this issue there is a tribute to the poetry of children. What was your experience teaching poetry in the schools?

KOMUNYAKAA: It was really amazing because of the surprises. These young third and fourth graders, they weren’t afraid. They weren’t afraid to put their emotions down on the page. They weren’t afraid of images that lept out of their psyche and I was quite surprised by that and also there’s a freshness usually. Not necessarily severe innocence, but a kind of surprising, almost accidental maturity.

FOX: Many poets who teach school children notice that the so-called bad students are often the ones who have the most to say, have the freshest voice.

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, again, that’s taking us back to Plato, or Plato’s argument with Euripides. They might be seeing something a little differently and perhaps wrestling with those small and big questions side by side. And confused, so the poem becomes a method of getting to a certain understanding and it’s not necessarily an understanding about the exterior world as much as an understanding about the interior world, the world that’s inside.

FOX: Do you find that at a college level you have to encourage students to reveal their interior world?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, they have created the mask, the facades, the detachments. They have to relearn to share; which is frightening, often that which they do not fully understand so there’s a certain risk involved, but not always. What’s interesting I think is this idea about poetry. Often they don’t realize the everyday things their lives are made of is subject matter for poetry. Usually it’s the grand abstraction, the big questions.

FOX: Some poets I’ve talked to feel that they may censor themselves because they don’t want to offend other people and write about their parents or other subjects. Is that a concern of yours?

KOMUNYAKAA: It’s not really a concern of mine. I think they may be offended if I protected, shared in their transparent illusions, that would be offending.

FOX: So in your work you don’t feel that you hold anything back.

KOMUNYAKAA: I try not to. But as I say that, I realize it’s an ongoing process. We’re getting to new territory over and over, as long as we live as artists.

FOX: Do you feel you’ve done your best work or is that yet to come?

KOMUNYAKAA: I feel like my best work is before me. I like to think of it that way.

FOX: What in your work has given you the biggest surprise?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, actually the book I’m working on, one of the books I’m working on now has been a huge surprise. It’s a long book, it’s probably a trilogy. And that is a book entitled, Pleasure Dome. For years I’ve read a lot of history, especially African American history, history that touched on the black experience worldwide. I’ve never really thought of that as subject matter for poetry until I began to pose questions to many young students during conferences. And they didn’t even know what I was talking about, and I’m a stickler on names. I am now finding myself writing about Pushkin, about Alexander Dumas, writing about George Washington Carver, Charles Drew, uh, all these characters that history shares.

FOX: Is there an essential theme, or message from you that you find in your work or that is most important to you?

KOMUNYAKAA: I suppose for me it’s the uncovering of things that’s important, not necessarily with any kind of design, but as a series of surprises. Presently I walk about three miles to school. And I’ve been writing sixteen line poems and often I find myself meditating on something that one might see as trivia, but then I come to find myself wrestling with it walking there and back, sometimes when I return home I’ll have a complete poem. It could be on the virtues of animals, insects, whatever. Perhaps it takes me a back to Bogalusa, Louisiana. I remember as a child I pretty much observed everything around. I remember observing the rituals of insects, and animals, and consequently observing the practiced rituals of human beings as well.

FOX: As an observer, do you feel more a part of the human story or apart from it?

KOMUNYAKAA: I feel a part of it. The way that I feel a part of it is a kind of hopeful celebration, a celebration of those small moments and how they all lead to the larger moments of human history.

FOX: What would you like your work to be remembered for?

KOMUNYAKAA: Persistence. [both laugh]

FOX: I think persistence is very, very important. So walking to and from school you can sometimes actually compose a poem?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well you know, what I wanted to do was write a large book, rather a long book of sixteen line poems. I wanted to impose a structure on the poems. I began writing odes and meditations, all those things that we sort of overlook and take for granted. And then I realized that I wanted to broaden the canvas. I wanted to deal with ontology, I wanted to deal with psychology, philosophy, history, all of those questions. I wanted to deal with universal relationships.

FOX: Do you prefer to write longer or shorter poems?

KOMUNYAKAA: I like the idea of being challenged to write longer poems. I would like to even write a book length poem, if possible, but also I like writing these small 16 line poems as well because what I’ve been looking for is a kind of compression. Everything’s so compressed, and at the same time, when it’s read it expands.

FOX: What about the role of ambiguity as compared to clarity in a poem.

KOMUNYAKAA: That’s an interesting one. I don’t mind the ambiguous because, especially if it’s interesting, it forces me back to the poem again and again. I like to read poems like that. I don’t like to have an immense clarity from the onset. I don’t know if I actually compose poems that way. I like the idea of coming back to the poem, the same way that I don’t think poems should be resolved. The idea of coming back to the poem again and again and consequently you understand more and more and you feel like you’re participating in something that’s organic or something that is alive and almost breathing at times.

FOX: What gives a poem an enduring quality, something that you want to return to?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think the music is important, the language inside the music, I think the images, the metaphors, the overall style that pulls us into the poem tells us, we can trust it, and it is the music of trust that endures.

FOX: Do you regard yourself as a spokesperson for any particular point of view such as Vietnam?

KOMUNYAKAA: No. I don’t really regard myself as a spokesperson. I just feel like I’m a part of the human community. And we were all observers. We’re all participants.

FOX: In that context do you find any significant differences between American poetry and poetry from other countries?

KOMUNYAKAA: That’s a good question because I do think that poetry from the United States, at this moment, is probably the most engaging, the most important and yet there are those isolated individuals writing in other parts of the world who are important. And it isn’t just because of creative writing workshops. Although creative writing workshops are influencing communities. And I do think the artist needs a community that he or she can embrace or that community can embrace, him or her. But, there is something in the air—poetry slams, poets in the school, all of these things happening.

FOX: So, it’s a pretty vibrant world then?

KOMUNYAKAA: Very vibrant. It seems like it’s inclined to engage celebration and critique.

FOX: Have you ever been to a poetry slam?

KOMUNYAKAA: Yeah, [laughs] not that I’ve participated in poetry slams. But I support anything that generates active language and communication.

FOX: One hallmark of the American experience today seems to be participation. So many people attend readings, write poetry and are interested in it.

KOMUNYAKAA: Yes, it’s quite an experience in democracy.

FOX: Can you say more about that.

KOMUNYAKAA: Just the fact that a democratic society can engage participants, that poetry engages individuals from various neighborhoods, various economic experiences and so forth. One can be at the top of the heap or at the bottom and still be an active participant.

FOX: What advice do you have for a young poet?

KOMUNYAKAA: Read everything. Write every day.

FOX: [laughs] That’s a fairly universal approach.

KOMUNYAKAA: It’s true.

FOX: Do you find that your students do that?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think often they realize the importance of that and yet seem afraid of being influenced. I tell them not to be afraid because the artist never really operates in isolation. We all are influenced just by the language we speak.

FOX: But if you have to be influenced any way, why not be influenced by the best? I’m intrigued by your ending lines from “The Thorn Merchant,” “he knows how death waits in us like a light switch.” Could you follow that up?

KOMUNYAKAA: Oh God. [laughs] I wrote that, matter of fact, in graduate school at Irvine and I remembered when I wrote that line down, that image down, it was something that made me laugh and at the same time, it was something that caused a great deal of internal fear.

FOX: Can you say more about the fear?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, it’s a realization about death, how it can come out of nowhere, it seems that it isn’t something that we can rehearse for. Something we can’t control. So, I think that’s where the fear comes from. That we’re not put here to control everything.

FOX: [laughs] Yes. Very true. Some people see poetry as a search for truth. Do you?

KOMUNYAKAA: It’s not necessarily a search for truth as much as a search for confrontation. And I’m talking about confronting that which is real, by finding that which is inside oneself. So I’ve pretty much defined poetry for myself as a celebration and confrontation.

FOX: Could you say more about the celebration.

KOMUNYAKAA: The celebration is that we care to describe something a hundred different ways. I’m willing to observe an insect, I’m willing to observe someone playing basketball, putting the whole body and mind into that observation and consequently getting even closer to the experience, in a sense.

FOX: And when you talk about confrontation, are you talking about an internal confrontation or … ?

KOMUNYAKAA: It’s an internal confrontation, I think for the most part although it can be an outward confrontation as well. I don’t necessarily rule that out because, let’s face it, language is political. We are social beings, but we are political beings as well and we don’t have a grasp on that which could be classified as a truth or truth. It seems as if the foundation is often shifting under our feet, and perhaps that’s good because as least we can have some kind of grasp on the cosmos. There’s no system or guarantees.

FOX: In what way do you see your work as political?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think it would be political to say it wasn’t political. I think silence is political. We are using tools such as language. Language is a political construct. A good example would be, if I look in the dictionary, everything that is prefixed with black, 90% percent of it would be negative. And vice versa. So I’m very much aware that language often is political and I think the young writer, I think the young thinker has to be aware of that as well.

FOX: What sort of influence would you like your work to have?

KOMUNYAKAA: I don’t want it to influence, I want it to be an instrument of meditation. I want it to be understood. I want people, at least momentarily, to be willing to embrace it. I’m not talking about the work being didactic, but as part of who we are. I would like for literature to be accepted that way. I would like knowledge to be accepted that way. I don’t think we should be fearful of knowledge. I don’t want everything nailed down, I don’t want my feet nailed to the floor. I think that is imprisonment. So about literature, I like to be challenged.

FOX: I find that some poems that I like very much, I read and I say, “Wow, I like that.” I don’t understand it. But I like it. [both laugh]

KOMUNYAKAA: That’s the interesting thing about it. It brings you in, in a psychological, emotional way. Sometimes I notice when an individual comes to me, he or she may understand certain things about it that I didn’t even have in mind. That’s positive for me.

FOX: When I was growing up my high school teachers taught poetry as something arcane which only they could really explain. I think many people have shared that experience.

KOMUNYAKAA: I don’t think poetry is that way. I think automatically coming to Dorothy Wordsworth’s journals, or coming to someone such as George Moses Horton, or any of these voices. Certain things we are not going to understand immediately and that’s fine, but if we reenter the territory of the poem with care, with insistence, with love, then we understand it. We don’t necessarily have to understand it a certain way. We understand it in relationships to who we are. What we’ve brought to it.

FOX: Do you think readers might understand the same word a little differently?

KOMUNYAKAA: I really do.

FOX: And you wouldn’t necessarily say that that’s wrong.

KOMUNYAKAA: I don’t necessarily say that, because I could be wrong. It’s what he or she brought to it experience and connotation.

FOX: What do you see happening with poetry in the United States over the next ten or twenty years?

KOMUNYAKAA: I hope poetry won’t be shortchanged by technology.

FOX: How?

KOMUNYAKAA: That technology doesn’t make us become emotionally, psychologically, and intellectually lazy. That everything is set up and thought out for us and we become slaves to that which is pre-programmed. I want poetry to keep its surprises.

FOX: Do you think that involves individuality, surprise?

KOMUNYAKAA: Yes.

FOX: Well what aspects of technology would concern you in that respect?

KOMUNYAKAA: [laughs] I expect medical technology for the most part. Well, no, I shouldn’t say that, but many aspects of technology because what it does is it sets out to make things easier. That is what always underlies, you know. Some things are difficult and that is what distinguishes us as human beings, that we have the kind of dexterity to negotiate those difficulties.

FOX: Do you feel it’s the computer, the internet or … ?

KOMUNYAKAA: Internet, things that just go boom and wham for us, you know, we realize we are consumers of pre-digested—we are not participating in this as thoughtful and inquisitive human beings.

FOX: Does it surprise you, in an age of Arnold Schwarzenegger and action movies, that poetry seems to be undergoing a renaissance?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think one of the reasons that poetry is having somewhat of a renaissance is because there is a need, and the need is even more severe now, because of what it contrasts. It contrasts often that which dehumanizes us.

FOX: Say more about that.

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, I still admire the capacity of the human brain to negotiate so many difficult questions, so many difficult problems. I admire that capacity but for some reason there is an attempt, and maybe not a full design, to bypass certain avenues. I am frightened about the amount of time spent in front of computers. I think people should be talking with each other a lot more. I’m frightened about the amount of time spent in front of televisions. What made me start thinking about this in the early ’80s, I think it was 1981, May of 1981, I went back to Louisiana and my grandmother was talking on the phone, her friends would call her, and they were talking about people I didn’t know, and it dawned on me they were actually talking about soap opera characters. And it really saddened me.

FOX: Do you find students nowadays different in any meaningful way than ten or twenty years ago?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think it becomes problematic with education, especially with the liberal arts, when individuals are not there for the love of learning. That the university has become essentially a trade school. I have real problems with that and so there’s always questions.

FOX: You seem to value life experience itself, the observation, the paying attention to the environment, to yourself, is more important than looking for the outcome?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think we have to go through the emotions of experience, wondering about, how the day is going to lead us towards the future. Appreciate what is.

FOX: I think there’s something about the issue of control. Couldn’t you say that the history of human evolution is seeking more and more control over the environment?

KOMUNYAKAA: Well, it’s even within the context of the Bible if we think about it. Man is given dominion over the animals and I’m frightened by that statement. That, one, because we’re born to human skin that automatically we are given dominion over everything that isn’t human. It’s commodity. The problem with that, I think, is that it’s a selfish thing because everything we think of is sacrificed as commodity. We know it’s going to run out.

FOX: And yet don’t we tend to treat other people as commodities, living I-it instead of I-thou?

KOMUNYAKAA: Right, that’s right. So, it’s almost as if we’re living for the moment. We feel as if we have to use up everything in our lifetime and I see that as immensely selfish.

FOX: What role do you think selflessness should have?

KOMUNYAKAA: I think it has taught us to survive as a species. But we should also be selfish about that which is good.

FOX: With that idea in mind, is working together the means for evolving communications?

KOMUNYAKAA: Yeah, but its not just communication. Because what I’ve been able to look at, it’s not communication for good as much as selling products. It baffles me what people have done through technology to convince others they need this or that. And we make a profit off these illusions.

FOX: It’s purely commercial.

KOMUNYAKAA: I think something is extremely wrong about it. We have brainwashed small children to think in a certain way. They begin to measure themselves against their friends; we’re talking about two- and three-year-olds. Something is awfully wrong and perverted here, because people think wearing a $1,000 or $2,000 worth of clothes creates a better person, but that isn’t the case at all. He or she could be the worst person.

FOX: It seems to me that’s one way we deal with our insecurity.

KOMUNYAKAA: Yeah, I think so. I couldn’t understand for a long time how boys could be killing other boys over brand name sneakers. Those kids must have been brainwashed to believe that those things are going to make them more complete people. Many times brainwashed within their families, or by television. I think we have to share in the responsibility of that. For what makes us human? I think the brain has a lot to do with it. And also compassion, the possibility of compassion.

FOX: That’s nice. It has to make a big difference in teachers, parents with their children. We’re all influenced, if not by being more human than television, then probably by being more selfish.

KOMUNYAKAA: Thank God. We have this possibility for compassion. It’s amazing.

FOX: Do you find compassion reflected in your work?

KOMUNYAKAA: I hope so. I like to be able to see things from the point of view of other humans, and even the animal world.

FOX: Any last thoughts?

KOMUNYAKAA: No. [laughing] We’ve been going on for awhile now.

from Rattle #9, Summer 1998

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