(AV17639) What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. A Poetry Reading

I’m Annie binder and in my face student
and I’d like to welcome everyone to tonight’s reading before we get started
I want to thank our sponsors the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences humanities
Iowa the MFA program and creative writing and environment and the
Committee on lectures after the rating we’ll have a brief question and answer
session and then I’d like to invite everyone to stay for refreshments and
then also to check out Camille’s books that are on the table out there I’m sure
she’ll be happy to sign them as well and now it is my pleasure to introduce
Camille Dungy as a as co-founder of from the Fish House an online audio archive
of young poets reading and discussing poetry Camille had an impact on my
poetry education long before I was aware of it this online resource led to the
publication of an anthology of poems by the same name which Camille co-edited
she’s also editor of the anthology black nature for centuries of african-american
nature poetry Camille herself is the author of two soon-to-be three books of
poetry her first book what to eat what to drink and what what to leave for
poison was a finalist in the Penn center USA 2007 literary awards and the Library
of Virginia 2007 literary award the poems in this collection blend
complicated human relationships with nature
connecting social history and environmental awareness the poems in her
second book suck on the marrow give an intimate and unflinching look at the
lives of individuals both slave and free in the mid 19th century America the
voices that emerge in these poems though imagined are true in their communication
of hope and of loss in the poem survival the human body simultaneously resilient
and fragile is compared to the environment like a branch float on water
she writes the body does not go under like a seat receded among dark rocks the
body leans were it must or fails the sensitivity took place of humans as part
of a wider natural world characterizes Camille’s poetry and allows her work to
inform our understanding of the past so that we can make conscientious decisions
about the future please join me in welcoming Camille Dungy thank you so much Annie for that
introduction and for my safe transit she came to Ankeny Iowa and collected me
this morning and brought me up to Des Moines or to Ames I’m sorry I have been
all over the country this quarter and so sometimes I forget my up for my down so
I thought that I would kind of read from a smattering of the collections that I
have represented right now and I feeling rather contrarian thought I would start
tonight’s poetry reading with an essay but as i assured some people it’s very
definitely the essay of a poet it’s the introduction to one of the sections of
black nature for centuries of african-american nature poetry and one
of the things that I tried to do with this anthology was to democratize it to
make it accessible for people who are lovers of poetry and teachers of poetry
and writers of poetry but also to people who would not normally pick up a poetry
anthology because I think that the information that’s in it and the the
standpoints that are conveyed in the work are important enough for a wide
variety of people to get an introduction to it and so this is a section called
growing out of this land which as it turned out in the organization of the
anthology is the only anthology does not cover all four centuries of
african-american nature poetry all of the poet’s in this section are writing
their poems or the poems were published after 1965 so it’s a section about
people who have are consciously claiming a stake in a land that and really
thinking about alienation and fighting alienation and I thought it was
interesting that in the process of collecting it it turned out that they
were all writers writing after the civil rights movements brown v board and some
of them major milestones of the civil rights
movement had occurred riding home when I was a girl child home was a street
called bluff view the uppermost block in a terraced neighbourhood of Southern
California houses in the summer when I was young and untier dand forced to bed
before the Sun went down my lullaby was the view my bedroom window afforded of
the hills behind my house desert oak prickly pear eucalyptus sage I fell
asleep cataloging this place in the daytime I
would scramble over one bluff and up the hill behind it playing teacher in the
case my neighbors and I found scratching lessons in the chalk chalky sand that
lined the walls we played doctor with stethoscopes fashioned from rocks and
the necklace stalks of wild mustard we knew the contours and passages of those
hills like we knew the halls and classrooms of our other inside school
walking down a slope is different than walking on flatland and each part of my
legs recorded required positions until they could move as correctly up and down
those blessed as my tongue might move over the alphabet my body memorized its
place in those hills but even while I lived at the center of everything I knew
everything I knew erased itself before I entered high school construction had
begun on Summit estates for our town’s growing mogul class the hilltop was
leveled and two of my favorite caves lost from my bender window I could now
see the red tiled roof of the Pizza King’s Palacio less desert oak a weaker
scent of sage when my parents bought the house on bluff view our backyard marked
the edge of human landscaping it was not uncommon to find tumbleweed resting on
our lounge chairs to leave wild poppies blooming along the margins of cut grass
now the hills were asphalt and ice plant the wild dogs we
called coyotes moved down into our backyards fighting with raccoons over
scraps from overturned trash cans and preying on small pets development in
California means the building of homes the imposition of landscaping the
digging of pools development in California means controlling what exists
and creating something new something only the diversion of rivers for the
maintenance of reservoirs can sustain development in California means the mass
irrigation of newly planted lawns houses houses everywhere and not a wild mustard
field to see not even the acres of organized agriculture that first money
the region survived the city of Orange in Orange County keeps an orange tree in
a fenced area one skinny branch specimen saved to represent the fields for which
the region was named I will stop here to actually say that now there is a plaque
where the orange that represented the orange trees existed and the orange tree
is no longer there it was taken down for a movie set I wish I was kidding I grew
up on a street called bluff you in the midst of California’s ambition for
development when I write poems about nature I am writing poems about loss I
am writing poems about discovering home where home has been replaced by
structures I do not want to recognize the place I was born into no longer
exists I don’t have a town I can call home unless language is home unless when
I write what had slipped away is found once I knew the silence and wind cry of
my California Hills in California the sky speaks with a clipped tongue
mountains shoulder into the conversation the ocean sighs and frustration and that
frustration rolls over us is fog say the sky and the sea have been arguing all
night say the mountains blanketed themselves and would threw into silence
but the sky and the sea kept at it through the night
it is finally morning when the ocean rolls its way blue eyes and sighs no one
will believe the bright points the sky still holds on to when I lived in
California I was at home in the language of sky and mountain top and sea but what
my parents came to California to find began to slip away and we moved away as
well I found myself in Iowa and believed for a long time that I had lost my home
the language of place is a slow speech to learn Iowa is blue uninterrupted blue
talking all day and a darker blue still talking through the night just the
waist-high tips of new corn there to listen and they not saying anything only
nodding their young heads a new language I moved to Iowa and didn’t write for
months when a poem finally came it was written in a different tongue now it has
half my life since I lived on Bluff you and I have traveled enough and moved
enough to know that home is not a place I am thinking perhaps home is not
language either language is too easy to lose perhaps home is memory it is years
later and I am a traveler walking I am on public land a park a knoll a meadow I
am glad to own the memories I own and through those memories to belong
someplace to have someplace belong to me I am remembering and I am writing a poem
in my many tongues a poem having to do with comfort something having to do with
peace then a dog comes growling toward me a dog was still tail and pointed ears
a dog with feigned mouth and purposeful eyes
the sky is quiet and the dog is barking and someone the dog trusts and will obey
says sicker sick if memory is home I am a long way from hope I have escaped and
I’m running I have to remember what has been said I am black and female no
places for my pleasure how do I write a poem about the land and my place in it
without the these memories the run away with the hounds at her heels the
complaint of the poplar at the man cry of its load land a thing to work but not
to own how do I write a poem about the land and my place in it without
remembering without shaping my words around this history the history I belong
to the history that belongs to me the dog drags me to fields of memory where I
tie from can see to can’t when I write poems about the land and my place in it
they are informed by this fact sometimes the landscape is of little comfort
sometimes I want to run far away from home when I was a child in the hills
behind the street called bluff you I knew no threat nor fear development the
advancement of possession had not pushed coyotes from the hillside into our
backyards my poems about nature are informed by displacement and oppression
but they are also informed by peace by self possession when I was a child on
bluff you the dogs we called bloodhounds the slave trackers tool were nothing I
knew to remember I was a girl child in that kingdom of open space and all the
land I could see a name and touch was mine to love no one no thing possessed
another nothing was developed apart from my heart when I was a child and the
hills behind the street called bluffing there was no such thing as history
sometimes my poems rest again in that quiet space that comfort the dog is
closer and the woman repeats her command but it is something altogether different
this time sit girl sit what place
what words what memories should I trust which direction will take me home so I
thought I start with that because I thought it would give a frame for the
rest of the poems that I was going to read today because I love your creative
writing program and creative writing and the environment and I love that idea of
thinking about the environment in all the different ways that we can think
about it as this place that we live these biospheres we share the body that
we have in in all the different ways and so I thought I would start by letting
you know that this is already an obsession of mine as we come in so now
I’m gonna read a few poems from my first book what to eat what to drink what to
leave for poison what happened with this book was I moved from California to
North Carolina and then Virginia which were about as hugely different
environments as what ever imagined an experience and many of my poems in those
years we’re about trying to figure out where I’ve landed fear do not change
your soap I will not know you fresh from the shower
you smell sharp like a stone I call it love like my knowledge of this hillside
sage on the steepest slope eucalyptus near the rocky caves this is how I find
my way home I would race back and forth from the
east coast to California and take the red-eye back slide into class on Monday
morning and start all over again for a couple months and then race back to
California and slide back and one time I was out there in San Francisco and I
wrote this poem and which I only tell you because I do believe in the power of
language the week that this book came out I also signed the contract to take
me back to the place where I wrote this poem long time gone long time yet to
come where Jasmine lemonsweets wind and salt
Slick’s the breeze where sage spices Sun drench there where the fragrant cloud
nest drives the pump beat on my blood I am home long time gone long time gone
and don’t know when I’m coming back but see me there where the orange tree
blossoms and the sky smells white as lying dried sheets see me there where
Jasmine lemonsweets wind and salt slicks the hair you wear into the breeze where
cactus fruit is suckling pear and it’s sweet hidden waters everywhere I am home
I’m gone but I’ll be back long time gone but I’ll be coming back and I’ll read
one more poem from this book right now which is also in the from the fish house
anthology and so that whole project started with my twin brother you can go
to the fish house website and take a look at him and see why I smiled
we were bored on the same day same year within minutes of each other counting
four time changes between Maine and Colorado
he was driving back and forth to work it was about an hour commute each way and
he wanted to work on his poems and listen to poems that he liked and this
was 2005 amazingly recently it was very difficult to find the work of emerging
writers online in audio form and so he sent me a tape recorder or like it was
it was not a tape recorder it was like an early digital recorder and they asked
me to record a few poems and they asked me if there were other poets that I
admired whose work he might like to listen to and from that group of 10
poets each time we get a new poet on the fish house we asked them for a few
recommendations and we’ve grown virally thatwe have over 250 poets over 2,000
poems and questions and answers and things like that and the real key of it
is that we really really really are valuing the oral nature of poetry how
poetry can sound so this is one of my poems in the fish house anthology the
preachers eat out they were maybe four of them perhaps five they were headed
where does not matter only they were not home yet we’re not near anyone who could
have cared so hungry they stopped there anyway and when they
heard we don’t serve your kind one among them laughed that’s okay
we’re not hungry for our kind we’ve come for food and when the one waitress who
would serve them she had children at home and these were tips finished
breaking their plates behind the building he called her over to the table
lady my one regret is that we don’t have appetite enough to make you break every
damned plate inside this reel so there I was living in Virginia in the town that
turned out was the town where my grandfather had his first church and his
first academic position and where my mother and aunt were born a town from
which they departed in 1953 and I was back for my first tenure-track position
at the same school where my grandfather was not allowed to study in the library
and if you know anything about American civil rights history you know that 1953
was not the best time to have left with your memory stopping there so my
grandmother who was a very good preacher’s wife and there is nothing
wrong in the world because I will be what made right eventually in the Lord
had a lot of bad things to say Virginia where I was landing and ended up living
for seven years and so I had to sir take this history this family history and
this collective history and try and figure out how I was gonna live there
what it how to make sense of it and so that’s what where the book what to eat
and what to drink and what to leave for poison that’s where the poems came from
I think of it as a guide book or survival book that that talks about the
different ways that people figured out how to make a place for themselves in a
world that would prefer for them not to make a place for themselves and and some
of the lessons are good you get that kind of wit and strength and power of
the preacher who just spoke in that poem some of the lessons not so good I’ve got
a no Jay Simpson poem in it we can learn from people who do things we often do
also and and that was the the first collection and then I thought I don’t
ever want to write about anybody who ever really lived again it was really
hard you’re responsible to people that they know you know and and you can look
go and look up Billie Holiday and Ella Fitzgerald and tell whether or not my
facts are right so I’m gonna make up characters all on
my own and that’s gonna be so much easier so I spent four years researching
and writing my next collection which is also set partly in Virginia and partly
in Philadelphia which was the town to which I always ran away and it turned
out that that I still so if what to eat was my 20th century Survival Guide suck
on the marrow is my 19th century survival guidebook aspire August and a
lash of Nats is certain prophesied corn and wheat realized their ambition while
hands twist harvesting through fields gnats and heat and work songs in gorge
the clotted air horses wear straw hats and join tree shaded with men
everything they do was done with the sanctioned ease of the Masters favorite
pop the horses are absurd with laughter as they watched the harvest progress one
summer donning shad will not rise the vermin and heat were light around him
the chant of the tedious season will mark time but he will be still in the
cool clay of his cabin all he wants to be still survival the body winnows the body tills
the body nose south feet sow gut night harvested kale the body knows to sleep
through well to dreams to wake before the night succumbs to morning wheat
wheat tobacco corn the body knows no stopping no sinking down like a branch
floats on water the body does not go under like a tree seated among dark
rocks the body leans where it must or fails so this book ended up being a
novel in verse in which I follow six characters through their different
experiences in Virginia or Philadelphia and it’s sort of a an eddy system where
some people start out in Virginia and move up to Philadelphia some people
start in Philadelphia and or kidnapped and brought down to Virginia and then
some people just stay put on either side sort of bobbing around in that cot in
those currents and one of the things that I really wanted to do was explore
different ways that people handle their situations so I do have a woman who runs
away and she escapes north to Philadelphia but I also have a woman
from the same household who just runs further south into the brothel district
just if you think about it she in some senses made the choice then of the kinds
of abuse that she would experience she had this weird strange control over her
body in that way and also there she is in the red-light district and what are
you gonna do say I just saw your girl down there at the brothel right so she
has the anonymity that she’s managed to get for
herself with this strange altered agency that she also claims so this poem uses a
some Bible verses and this character along with stealing herself also chooses
her own name and as we move through the poem I’m going to quote the Bible verse
which will describe the genesis of her names and also read the poem and you’ll
learn a little bit about one of the I think rather ingenious escape strategies
and now shall be called a new name which the mouth of the Lord shall name for
Zions sake I will not I will not hold my peace for Jerusalem’s sake I will not I
will not rest I will not I will not rest until the righteous go it was the
roaming creatures birthright she was after so she marked the wanderings of a
sick buck till it died it was the wild creatures right to free death she
desired the righteous go forth as the brightness the brightness the righteous
go forth as the brightness and the salvation thereof as the lamps that burn
if she marched the falling of a sick buck when it died then stowed her
travelling dress beneath the carcass in three days she’d made a stench skirt to
slow the hounds still more she polished her boots in his hides rot sweet oil and
the Gentiles shall see the Gentile shall the Gentiles shall see thy righteousness
and all the kings shall see thy glory she named herself Rebecca because that
woman knew l could run privilege out of a brutes
tent and secure it for the child she favored thou shalt no more be called
forsaken neither shall thy land be turned desolate she was a while
preparing but when she smelled most like disappearing she was gone one of the
things I found interesting in that aspect of the research was that the dogs
would then be trained to smell humans right so we think of dogs as hunting
dogs that would be trained to track deer and she sort of played the reverse on
this and the deer weren’t of interest to these particular hounds and off she
slipped right under the noses literally under the noses of those who were
looking for her so this book is all set in the 19th century and and there’s some
hard history in that part of the American landscape and the poems were
often difficult to write part of the pleasure that I had in it was the
experience of doing the research and figuring out how to incorporate the
materials that I was learning and to put it into the book in vibrant ways and new
ways so that you weren’t just reading a textbook story you were reading about
people and so I I played around with that I played around with the language a
lot I played around with all of the different life that we might see there’s
a man in the book who is kidnapped from Philadelphia and taken into Virginia and
we meet him at the beginning of the book and then at the end of the book we meet
his wife Melinda and I’ll just read a short segment from Melinda’s section the
title of the poem should make you think a little bit of the Ulysses story and
I’m always interested in that story that Penelope sort of patiently waits for
however long for her husband to come back and I mean I really love my husband
but I wonder if I would have that patience to
to wait for that amount of time for somebody who might never return unravel
and weave when I hang mr. Cartwright strausser’s on a line with no thought as
to how the leg would taper down joe’s calf i am nothing more than myself and
happy to be melinda young now freeman but of course i am no longer young and
no more freeman than Hattie down the alley whose old man elijah the porter
went off ten years since with another gal is a Porter’s bride because there is
no dirt turned over the body I love because the hands that stole my plants
were neither death nor some other seductress because I have no body to
blame no betrayal to explain my kidnapped ambition
there are moments I can do nothing but forget I must be someone’s widow
someone’s abandoned wife it is difficult to answer if I am more or less myself in
the late evenings when I take calls from men like Richard turn bridge who would
have me drop Freeman and fold myself into his name and Who am I
when I am waiting on the corner just Melinda watching for the break between
the carts and carriages wondering only when the time will come when it is quiet
enough for me to walk into the road so one of the charges that I knew that I
had when I was running this book was to find places to situate joy because I
know nobody goes through life no matter how hard life is without finding some
places for joy and some places for peace and rest and what are the things that
happens when we write about characters we don’t know is that it’s sometimes
hard to create that sort of dimensionality we sort of know them as
the people suffering and then how do we figure out how to give them joy we know
them as they’re really happy people and how do we
you know how do you balance them essentially luckily there’s research
there are archives there are all kinds of places that we can find ideas that
flutter down to us so I have this really really really lucky opportunity to be a
fellow for one month of the American antiquarian society and it’s the
creative arts fellow I didn’t have to focus just on something really really
really specific I could just wander in and ask the librarians to bring me
whatever struck my fancy that day and I was in the mood to read almanacs because
I was setting my characters in particular times that I was watching the
the tracking the moon and then the Year Joseph Freeman was kidnapped
there was a major eclipse and you know I was doing all this fun stuff with that
and so that was why I was reading almanacs but in the back of one
particular Almanac somebody had written a series of notes and I just borrowed
from those notes to write this poem observation on the return of migratory
birds I record each arrival early and late the birds are returning the Blue
Jay March one pigeons and robins the week before my birthday I am only here
in the last week of April seeing chickadees wingback
and gather nesting I need the eye I am when I am witnessing this small and song
full resolution feathered collation sledge perched tufted shadow skimming
our Ally’s cobbles and then gone and then back again when these flitters
returned to my block of the black ward one morning and stay on into the evening
always I notice I smile so those are some a little taste from
suck on the marrow and now I’m gonna go back to the anthology and read a newer
poem from it I’m also actually gonna read a poem not by me I’m gonna read the
poem that I use is the preface for the anthology and it’s by the now late
always great Lucille Clifton who I have always thought of as a model for much of
my work she was an amazing woman an amazing poet a woman of incredible
precision with language she could just hone right in on whatever it was she
needed to say she said it was partly because she was the mother of five
children and she didn’t have time for long long long rambling poems but I also
think it was just she had a very incisive mind I was able to do that
surely I am able to write poems celebrating grass and how the blue in
the sky can flow green or red and the waters lean against the Chesapeake Shore
like a familiar poems about nature and landscape surely but whenever I begin
the trees wave their knotted branches and why is there under that poem always
and other poem so I used that as the preface for black nature because I think
it really shapes a lot of the argument that I’m making in this book that
african-american writers even when we write about the natural world are very
very oft frequently also writing another poem and so all of those nature poems
that I just read you from suck on the marrow would really rarely be
anthologized or collected in a journey Journal of environmental poetry or
nature poetry because they’re so deeply historically charged and socially
charged etc and which means that we erase a whole
slew of kinds of writing out there of people who are writing and thinking
about the world and thinking about the environment but also thinking about
other things at the same time and so this next poem I’m gonna read is from my
forthcoming collection called Smith blue the title Smith blue is borrows its name
from the name of a butterfly that’s an endangered butterfly on the central
California coast and it was discovered by these two Berkeley students one of
whom was swallowed by a sneaker wave which are these waves that just come
along you’re just like walking along the coast and it’s lovely and nice and then
here comes the ocean and they can be very very dangerous and totally sudden
and so there’s these two guys they’re very very good friends one of them gets
lost by this completely fickle act of the natural world the butterfly gets
named after the one that gets lost it’s now an endangered species on this highly
popular quickly populating California coast the poems in this new collection
are about all these kinds of things they’re about love and loss and the
fickleness of the natural world and the fickle way we treat the natural world
and war and you know etc and fun and enjoyment and pleasure somehow in the
face of all that yak I will tell you that this poem is a something of a
braided poem so there are several storylines going on at one time you may
get lost that’s okay ride the wave since everyone can never
be safe the bitch ran in the pack and nothing
about that was remarkable except the sight of her intestines on the ground as
well as in her gut but we were yakking about kids before we turned to dogs
they were playing what do you call that game kids scattered in pairs across the
yard elbows linked the lot of them except the one who was it and one other
one we were working 50 weeks a year now adult hours these
dinners were decadence we could easily afford the loose Tom’s and spayed pups
we called our own even they knew that was more than enough and no longer beat
us to the Bulls we filled two times each day if the kid whose it’s too close the
other kid will grab some arm then the kid whose partner got the grab now he’s
got to be the one to run my friend she’d seen those dogs and had that night
though I’m sure we hadn’t asked her to tell us about them the thing that caught
me was these kids they kept screaming Trevor Trevor Trevor and holding out
their arms then it was Maria Maria Maria when Trevor grabbed someone most of us
have been to the place she was talking about god it was hot one of us
remembered ooh and that flatbread we said remember the
west bank of the river how lazy that afternoon was they’d yell Maria Maria
and waved their little arms though any arm that got the grab that meant some
other kid would have to run dinner that night if I can recall consisted of
several courses lamb shake on a bed of cracked barley chickpeas home cured
olives a chutney or – arugula salad with cashews and organic tomatoes thick
crusted bread a healthy soup something sweet to top it off a plenitude of wine
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 it was only the way that bitch acted how
normal she made all that seem nothing remarkable those dogs their hunger I
mean what were they really what were they looking to do even the way they
consume the bitch those dogs my friend wanted us to see
how easy it seemed watching all of this go down that pack was unremarkable she
almost overlooked them really the way that got behind her and on top that
everyone was eating nothing could be less remarkable than that and I’m gonna
close with one last poem which is also in both the anthology and one of my
books and I’m closing with it again in the same way I started to just talk
about the way that my way of understanding this world and living in
it has always and probably will always shape my language in my use of language
the way I think about my poems and my life language silence is one part of
speech the war-cry of wind down a mountain pass another a stranger’s voice
echoing through lonely valleys a lover’s voice rising so close it’s your own
tongue these are keys to cypher the way the high Hawks key unlocks the throat of
the sky and the Coyotes yyyp knocks it shut the way the Aspen’s bells conform
to the breeze while the rapids drum defines resistance
saij speaks with one voice pinion with another rock wind her hand water her
brush spells and then scatters her demands some notes tear and pebble our
paths some notes gather the bank we map our lives around thank you so now the
word on the street is I am open and it’s true too is that I’m open to answer
questions for anybody who has a question there’s a microphone lady running around
for you there oh come on just one I can’t even repeat your question so if
you that the bike doesn’t work that’s okay yeah so um so there is this huge
responsibility and that’s true and then as with a lot of the fact of writing for
me I just ignore that responsibility for the period of the drafting of the poem
right or the essay when I’m doing that part of the work I’m just writing
because there are enough censors running around our brain that be what will this
person say what would the Ella Fitzgerald experts say is the last thing
that you need to emit into your brain so for a number of drafts and revisions of
the poem just write what it is you need to know and figure out the truths that
you’re going to get to but at some point just like you’re gonna do I hope that
you’re going to do a revision that looks for consistency of tints right or
constancy of punctuation you’re just also going to look for a
poem that’s consistency of fact if it is a real person’s life
now I’m gonna say this in the presence of my father he might not know this but
it’s it’s true as I know it it’s just the other thing about fact right here
facts it’s truth is you know it so that my my first collection it deals a lot
with my family and my father is a relatively quiet private man and doesn’t
that part of the family isn’t a history that goes bad about all the time right
so I have this whole section about his family which isn’t really public right
and I asked him do you mind right before I sent it out for submission and luckily
luckily luckily I have an incredibly supportive family my father was like
yeah whatever and he’s like my number one champion and man is like sells my
book like Girl Scout cookies and stuff like that but like if he had said no
then what then what right like then I wouldn’t have this book so I’m not sure
as much as I love my father that I would ever give somebody that power that veto
power again right I trusted those poems I believe that those stories needed to
be told and that I was telling them as honestly and as truthfully as possible
and that that’s what I had to have have based my faith on right so that was a
sort of young decision on my part too / and luckily I gave it to somebody who
was worthy of that trust but most people actually aren’t so so that’s a long kind
of answer but the essential answer is it’s a fact that you need to work think
about and it’s the fact that you have to attend to at one process in revision but
it’s not something that should silence you and there are other people who say
that they’ve written things and done things and they’re just not going to
publish it Lucille Clifton she wrote a lot of poems about the abuse that she
suffered at the hands of her father that she never published until after her
father was dead because even in the face of that abuse she had a relationship
with her father that she did not feel that that part of their life needed to
be made public while he was still alive so that’s a decision that you can also
make but she made that decision he didn’t write how about somebody else yeah okay so the question this is for
the for posterity the color the question was essentially it did I find people who
surprised me as I was collecting black nature because of the groups that they
may or may not been in and the answer is absolutely yes I found people who
surprised me I found people who surprised other people who read this
works a lot and I actually found people who surprised the people so when I went
to living poets and said I would like to include your poem in my black nature
anthology they would look at me like this is a poem about my hometown in
Georgia what does that have to do I was like do
you notice how many think you’re a bird or dude yeah you have all kinds of
references to birds and animals and you were a shepherd when you grew up what do
you mean you don’t think of yourself in this lens but he just had it right and
that happened very very frequently that people have been so used to being
categorized in other categories that they had never considered that they were
writing in this way and so that was really very very exciting to be able to
find work that way and sometimes I did a sort of backhanded open call and that
backhanded open call was really open so that people would submit to this it was
a really great journal called ecotone reimagining place it’s a fabulous
journal so they’re submitting to this journal about place-based writing and
thanks I think and then I’m plucking the poems out for
my purposes so that was that was the way that I kind of fooled everybody in and
got the poems that I needed so yes thank you ah when is my future work and
tail well so this this this third book is the fastest movement from completion
of a manuscript to publication of the manuscript that I’ve ever experienced so
most of my books take about four to six years from conclusion to when I see them
in this book I just finished collecting at this summer and will be out in summer
of 2011 so that’s really really quick and left me actually rather barren of
unpublished work so I don’t know what’s gonna happen next I’m gonna have to to
figure it out my life is about to rapidly change this June I’m gonna have
my first child so I would imagine that my poems are gonna start looking very
different and as you noted that last poem I read was about three times as
long as the other poems that I read right so the poems in Smith blue are
very often too sometimes there’s like a couple eight page poems in that
collection I have a feeling that with the new child I’m not gonna be writing a
page poems could be wrong but I just I just assume that’s not gonna happen so
there’s gonna be some formal changes that I I get to experience and see and
that’s happened with each of my books is it by each collection is somehow a
resistance against the formal strategies that I’ve taken in the last as well as
the subject matter and I just don’t know which is really kind of exciting thank
you yes so that the translation of history
and research into work written work one of the things is that my poems are
really very often character driven so I I dream in narrative I dream in
character based sort of dreams they’re like little soap operas in my brain and
it shows up that way in my work as well and so the material from the archives
has to fit a person in the poems and that then has it granted so it’s not
just stuff it’s not just facts floating around but facts in the hands of some
person right and now meets a verb essentially and that and that that’s
where I have the fun of it and it’s also sometimes the challenge there’s stories
one of my favorite stories along these lines is I’ve gone to a plantation where
outside of Richmond where a man who was worked on a slave rebellion that didn’t
work it’s called a Gabriel process rebellion where he lived and long before
the slave rebellion he was already sort of a marked man literally a marked man
he had a tea branded on his thumb because he’d stolen a shoat and eaten it
and it was marked with this t for thief and I thought well that’s great I’ve got
to get this into this book this idea of somebody who steals a show first of all
show tis such a great word right not young pig shoot it’s awesome and so
I wanted that word and I wanted the T on the hand and I tried and I tried and I
tried and I tried and I failed over and over and up again well the word show is
in this book and the T on somebody’s thumb is in this book and eventually
there were the characters who needed those words in their mouths or on their
bodies right and and that those moments came eventually from practice and
practice and writing but it wasn’t a retelling of the Gabriel Prosser story
which was my original problem was I was trying to retell something that wasn’t
my story to tell I had my own story that I needed to tell and I had to you know
just kind of have to wait around you can figure it out and your own way
I remember that dreaming thing one time I was on tour and I was with Richard
Seiken and Annabeth Oh Yepez and everybody up is a Tijuana lives in
Tijuana writes multilingual II really very kind of experimental avant-garde
work richard sheikin you might know his first book crush which one they yell
younger prized it was really really really image saturated work and I woke
up from the snap in the middle of day and we went to dinner and I described my
dream and they were both looking at me like I was in saying cuz I was really
kind of describing like an All My Children episode that had just happened
in my brain and Richard said if I dream at all it’s like a color you know I’ll
wake up and be like green this is dream and every bet does poems our dreams were
just crazy crazy crazy and I was like at all my children up I said and so in my
subconscious I work narrative Lea right and so then I have to work into that
strength and and make my narratives interesting and engaging and image rich
and language rich but knowing that my strength is going to be telling a story
telling story right how about one more I’ve silenced the crew
oh so that’s what I get for asking for one more question and then the hardest
question of all that’s the hardest question of all what do you read
you know I the one place I don’t read is in the shower cuz I wear glasses and I
can’t see I have friends who read the shampoo bottles and I I felt really
inferior cuz I don’t know what my shampoo bottle says it’s the only place
I can’t read but I read anything that I well that’s not true actually I don’t
like bad literature I don’t like not well written literature cuz it just
makes me mad it’s it’s a waste of my time in a sense that they haven’t taken
that time to tighten it up but any kind of good literature from any country any
time period that is going to teach me things about a way of looking at the
world that I hadn’t thought about a way of writing about writing about the world
that I hadn’t thought about I love so I’ve talked about Lucille Clifton I
lovely so cooked in I love Robert Hawes I love Ron ramón jiménez I love Sappho
the list could go on and on we just moved into a new place my husband and I
who’s also a reader and a scholar and we have a whole room for books and there
are still books not unpacked from their boxes yeah it’s it’s just it’s a sick
pairing but you know two of us so it’s it’s my little obsession I guess I guess
of obsessions it’s not the most unhealthy one there just means I have
trouble answering that question okay so here’s what I’ll do I will go wherever
they tell me to to sign books and I will happily sign your books and I’m happy to
answer questions individually if you have them thank you very much for being
such a great attentive audience and enjoy this warm beautiful a little bit
wet Iowa spring so where is it they want me to say so
where is it they want me to say so where is it they want me to say so where is it
they want me to say so where is it they want me to say so where is it they want
me to say so where is

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