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Camille T. Dungy

1972–

Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver in 1972. She received a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.

Dungy is the author of Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017), Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize, Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010), and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006). She is also the author of Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017) and the editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009) and coeditor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (Persea, 2009).

About her book Smith Blue the poet Ed Roberson writes:

These are large, open-hearted lyrics about love: its pleasure, its neglect, loss and remembrance. Love here is not just parental and fraternal or of lovers and husbands, but a love for butterflies, things and their places. With a subtle variety yet balance of line, these are not ponderous pronouncements, but the voice of a graceful wondering about the world and the way we carry on.

Among Dungy’s honors are fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, Cave Canem, and the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. She is also a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award, in 2010 and 2011, and a Silver Medal Winner of the California Book Award.

Dungy is a professor at Colorado State University and lives in Fort Collins.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry
Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017)
Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press, 2011)
Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press, 2010)
What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press, 2006)

Prose
Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017)
 


Camille T. Dungy
Photo credit: Rachel Eliza Griffiths

By This Poet

7

There are these moments of permission

	Between raindrops, 


			space, certainly,


but we call it all rain.


          I hang in the undrenched intervals,


while Callie is sleeping,


	my old self necessary


and imperceptible as air.

Characteristics of Life

A fifth of animals without backbones could be at risk of extinction, say scientists.
—BBC Nature News

Ask me if I speak for the snail and I will tell you
I speak for the snail.
                          speak of underneathedness
and the welcome of mosses,
                                        of life that springs up,
little lives that pull back and wait for a moment.

I speak for the damselfly, water skeet, mollusk,
the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant.
                                                        I speak
from the time before spinelessness was frowned upon.

Ask me if I speak for the moon jelly. I will tell you
                        one thing today and another tomorrow
        and I will be as consistent as anything alive
on this earth.

                        I move as the currents move, with the breezes.
What part of your nature drives you? You, in your cubicle
ought to understand me. I filter and filter and filter all day.

Ask me if I speak for the nautilus and I will be silent
as the nautilus shell on a shelf. I can be beautiful
and useless if that's all you know to ask of me.

Ask me what I know of longing and I will speak of distances
        between meadows of night-blooming flowers.
                                                        I will speak
                        the impossible hope of the firefly.

                                                You with the candle
burning and only one chair at your table must understand
        such wordless desire.

                                To say it is mindless is missing the point.

Because it looked hotter that way

we let our hair down.  It wasn't so much that we 
worried about what people thought or about keeping it real 
but that we knew this was our moment. We knew we'd blow our cool
 
sooner or later.  Probably sooner.  Probably even before we 
got too far out of Westmont High and had kids of our own who left
home wearing clothes we didn't think belonged in school.

Like Mrs. C. whose nearly unrecognizably pretty senior photo we  
passed every day on the way to Gym, we'd get old.   Or like Mr. Lurk 
who told us all the time how it's never too late

to throw a Hail Mary like he did his junior year and how we
could win everything for the team and hear the band strike 
up a tune so the cheer squad could sing our name, too. Straight

out of a Hallmark movie, Mr. Lurk's hero turned teacher story.  We
had heard it a million times. Sometimes he'd ask us to sing
with him, T-O-N-Y-L-U-R-K Tony Tony Lurk Lurk Lurk. Sin

ironia, con sentimiento, por favor, and then we
would get back to our Spanish lessons, opening our thin
textbooks, until the bell rang and we went on to the cotton gin

in History. Really, this had nothing to do with being cool. We
only wanted to have a moment to ourselves, a moment before Jazz
Band and after Gym when we could look in the mirror and like it. June

and Tiffany and Janet all told me I looked pretty. We
took turns saying nice things, though we might just as likely say, Die
and go to hell.  Beauty or hell. No difference. The bell would ring soon.





With thanks to "We Real Cool" by Gwendolyn Brooks

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