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Tu Do Street

By Yusef Komunyakaa (1947 – present)


1. He was born in Bogalusa, Lousiana where his father works a carpenter.
- American poet and author of essays, interviews, and commentaries.
- Born in 1947, lived through the 1950s when segregation was violently enforced
- In 1967, Komunyakaa graduated with a B.A. from the University of Colorado in 1975.
He subsequently earned two Master's degrees, from Colorado State University, in
1979, and from the University of California at Irvine, in 1980. Komunyakaa has
taught English literature, composition, African-American studies, and creative
writing in several universities throughout the United States, including University of
New Orleans, Colorado State University, University of California at Irvine and at
Berkeley, and Indiana University at Bloomington.
- He currently holds a position as Humanities Professor of Creative Writing at
Princeton University.

2. Sent to Vietnam as a serviceman - In 1965, at age 18, soon after graduating from high school,
Komunyakaa entered the army, serving in Vietnam as editor of the military newspaper Southern
Cross and as an information specialist.

3. His attitude towards the Vietnam War

4. His poems, collections, and style - Komunyakaa's style shows the influence of jazz music, Beat
poetry, and surrealism. He draws from both his childhood in Louisiana and his experiences in the
Vietnam War as the subject matter of his poetry. Dien Cai Dau (1988), his volume of poetry
about the Vietnam War, has been highly praised both as an expression of the experiences of
African-American soldiers in Vietnam and as a work that acknowledges the common humanity
shared by white and black soldiers as well as the Vietnamese people.
- Was first exposed to poetry when he was still a child, through the Bible, particularly
Old Testament’s “cadence” which he would hear from his grandparents who were
church people.

5. Personal life? Wife? Family? Effects of the war to his later life? How did he die? - Komunyakaa is
married to fiction writer Mandy Sayer.


1. Background/beginnings; bakit nagsimula in the first place – 1954 – 1975
At the heart of the conflict was the desire of North Vietnam, which had defeated the French
colonial administration of Vietnam in 1954, to unify the entire country under a single communist
regime modeled after those of the Soviet Union and China. The South Vietnamese government,
on the other hand, fought to preserve a Vietnam more closely aligned with the West.

2. Pangingialam ng US [US & Republic of Vietnam (Army of Vietnam) vs North Vietnam & Viet Cong
(People’s Army of Vietnam)]
U.S. military advisers, present in small numbers throughout the 1950s, were introduced on a
large scale beginning in 1961, and active combat units were introduced in 1965. By 1969 more
than 500,000 U.S. military personnel were stationed in Vietnam. Meanwhile, the Soviet Union
and China poured weapons, supplies, and advisers into the North, which in turn provided
support, political direction, and regular combat troops for the campaign in the South.

3. Tet Offensive (Battles of Dak To and Khe Sanh), the final result of the war, and the total damages
and casualties in both sides.
Beginning of the end. The costs and casualties of the growing war proved too much for the
United States to bear, and U.S. combat units were withdrawn by 1973. In 1975 South Vietnam
fell to a full-scale invasion by the North.
In 1995 Vietnam released its official estimate of war dead: as many as 2 million civilians on both
sides and some 1.1 million North Vietnamese and Viet Cong fighters. The U.S. military has
estimated that between 200,000 and 250,000 South Vietnamese soldiers died in the war. In
1982 the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington, D.C., inscribed with the
names of 57,939 members of U.S. armed forces who had died or were missing as a result of the
war. Over the following years, additions to the list have brought the total past 58,200.

4. General attitude of the public US re the meddling of US in the Vietnam War, and the withdrawal
of public US support beginning the Tet Offensive.

5. Arrival of American servicemen in Vietnam gave birth to slang words and jargons, some of which
have later become part of the Viet civilian language.
based upon the nomenclature of the equipment used by the troops, on popular military abbreviations, on the
language of the country where the action happens to be, or just on words or terms that get made up as they are
Most of these do not seem to last, but a few of them stick – such as “GI” from World War II – and become a
permanent part of even the civilian language.
It is interesting to note that the terms “papa-san” and “mama-san” and baby-san”, originally American slang in Korea,
have been imported to Vietnam and are now even used by the Vietnamese.
The following words or terms are just a few of the current crop from Vietnam, and are offered not as a guide to what
to say, but to help the newcomer understand what some of the natives are saying


1. When and where exactly is the poem set? What kind of place is it? [Establishing images, the only
thing we can decode at this point is that the author is inside a bar, in a place where there are
“mama-sans”, hence Vietnam.]

2. What is the identity of the speaker, and how is he treated upon entering the place? [We have
played Judas where only machine-gun fire brings us together” suggests he is a soldier, and the
line wherein he orders a beer but the mama-san ignores him and scans the room for white faces
instead, implies that he is not White, therefore a black GI.]

3. “Music divides the evening”; “I close my eyes can see / men drawing lines in the dust”; “America
pushes through the membrane of mist and smoke”: what do you think do these lines have in

4. Notice how the imagery shifted from the bar to another imagery. What does the next line, “We
have played Judas where / only machine-gun fire brings us together” convey, then?

5. Finally, how does the poem’s title “Tu Do Street” summarize the author’s point regarding
Vietnam War?

(As you read the poem, you will notice that the imagery shifts from one
setting to another. Can you identify the points in which a block of imagery
ends and another one starts?)

(Speaker’s attitude towards the women?) [as I look / for a softness behind
these voices / wounded by their beauty and war]

“Tu do Street” describes the experience of an African-American soldier

entering a bar in Vietnam that serves only white soldiers.


It was one of those endings that, once I’d written it down, just stopped where it was. There were
many symbolic underworlds in Vietnam, the underground tunnel systems, some of the bars, and
the whole psychic space of the GI – a kind of underworld populated by ghosts and indefinable
images. It was a place of emotional and psychological flux where one was trying to make sense
out of the world and one’s place in that world. And there was, relentlessly, a going back and
forth between that internal space and external world. It was an effort to deal with oneself, and
with the other GIs, the Vietnamese, and even the ghosts that we’d managed to create ourselves.
So, for me, this is a very complex picture of the situation of the GI – going back and forth,
condemned in a way to trek back and forth between those emotional demarcations while trying
to make sense out of things.

Dien Cai Dau is an expression, meaning “crazy,” that the Vietnamese used to
describe American soldiers fighting in Vietnam. Komunyakaa's Vietnam War
poems are usually narrated from the first-person, and sometimes in the first-
person plural “we,” which expresses the collective experience of soldiers in
the war. His fleeting, concentrated imagery juxtaposes the natural landscape
of Vietnam with the brutality of war. These poems chronicle the experiences of
an African-American soldier in Vietnam, examining both the unique
experiences of African-Americans in the war and the shared humanity of white
and black soldiers with the Vietnamese people.