New Faculty Camille Dungy Reads on Thursday, October 17th
I have the distinct honor of introducing the newest member of our creative writing faculty, Camille Dungy. Not only has our program gained an excellent teacher and poet, but also an editor and advocate. In fact, Huffington Post recently named Camille as one of the top 200 poetry advocates for her non-profit project, “From the Fishouse,” which seeks to promote and preserve the oral tradition of poetry, with a special focus on emerging poets. I think that this advocacy is part of what makes Camille such a provocative poet and teacher, as she deeply believes that poetry is powerful, and that it ethically engages our world.
I first heard Camille read at the 2012 Ecopoetics conference. She is an engaging reader. In fact, out of the 25 (yes 25) poets who read that first night at the conference, her poem was the only one I could remember, and still remember, nearly a year later. Part of the reason she stood out to me is, as I mentioned before, her exquisite command of the poem in its oral form, which is no surprise given her keen attention to the oral tradition. However, it was the arresting and disconcerting imagery that haunted me well after:
It was only the way she dragged herself along the street my friend
remembered. Like she was all together and not dripping apart.
Not dragging her own stomach down the road.
It was only the way that bitch acted.
How normal she made all of it seem.
Nothing remarkable. Those dogs. Their hunger.
These lines come from the poem “Since Everyone Can Never Be Safe” in her third and most recent poetry collection, Smith Blue, winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book prize. These lines alone are vivid and disturbing enough to be memorable. However, part of Camille’s skill as a poet derives from her ability to juxtapose images that at first seem unrelated in order to reveal the deeper concerns couched in our daily experiences, from the language we use to the environment we are situated in. This poem begins, “The bitch ran in the pack / and nothing about that was remarkable / except the slick of her intestines on the ground” before explaining the way a children’s game is played: “They’d yell, Maria Maria, / and wave their little arms, / though any arm that got the grab, that meant some other kid had to run.” The contrast between the dying dog and the children at play make us believe that some darkness is lurking in the background, that this enactment of children eliminating one another hints at an inevitable violence hidden in the future, even, perhaps, the present.
Camille is also known for her work as an editor, most recently for the Fishouse Anthology from Persea Books, and prior to that, for the anthology Black Nature, which seeks to “bring more voices into the conversation about human interactions with the natural world.” This anthology stems from Camille’s own keen awareness of how her personal history can be told via the environments she has inhabited, the environments that have inhabited her. This anthology critiques the Anglo-American concept of the pastoral as “diversion” and reframes it, asking what the pastoral looks like from the “perspective of the workers in the field.” Camille’s attention to narrative, to the environment, and to advocacy for the inclusion of often-ignored voices in the canon makes her provocative and forthcoming, a voice that has the power to cut through the white noise of our contemporary culture. We are lucky to have her at CSU.
Camille will read alongside CSU’s own Todd Mitchell at 7:30 at the Hatton Gallery. Don’t miss it!