We’re coming to the end of National Poetry Month. It has been a challenge to limit ourselves to just a month’s worth of influential poets and poetic forms, while including space for CSU’s own poets. We’ve barely brushed the surface. If we’ve learned anything this month, it would be that poetry is a powerful magic, a potent medicine, and poets are the ones we look to when “she cannot find the words/for the nothing in her center.”
To end our spotlight this month, we are featuring the fourth of our CSU English faculty poets, Camille Dungy. We remain excited about the recent release of her new collection of poetry, Trophic Cascade, (March 2017). “Dungy writes about the world in which we must all survive in a time of massive environmental degradation, violence, and abuse of power.” Earlier this week, Poetry Daily featured her title poem, Trophic Cascade, a powerful piece that compares the change that happened to the ecosystem in Yellowstone after the reintroduction of the gray wolf to the personal transformation that took place for the poet once she became a mother, “After which, nothing was ever the same.” This single poem does what the rest of the collection does so well — telling beautiful and sometimes brutal stories of life, embodying both the personal and the natural world in a single unified narrative.
We recently featured Dungy on the blog during Women’s History Month. There’s also a profile we did when she first arrived at CSU. Rather than repeat ourselves, we decided this time to ask the poet herself to speak for herself about poetry and this new collection.
Can you tell us just a little about Trophic Cascade and your inspiration for this collection of poetry?
It’s often hard to summarize a book of poetry. Here’s what we say about the book on the book: “In this fourth book in a series of award-winning survival narratives, Dungy writes positioned at a fulcrum, bringing a new life into the world even as her elders are passing on. In a time of massive environmental degradation, violence and abuse of power, a world in which we all must survive, these poems resonate within and beyond the scope of the human realms, delicately balancing between conflicting loci of attention. Dwelling between vibrancy and its opposite, Dungy writes in a single poem about a mother, a daughter, Smokin’ Joe Frazier, brittle stars, giant boulders, and a dead blue whale. These poems are written in the face of despair to hold an impossible love and a commitment to hope.”
In terms of the inspiration for writing the book, I was beginning to write new poems in a moment when I was bringing a new life into this world. But I also happened to be losing loved ones, to old age and illness, but also (if I think more proudly about what and who I love) to environmental degradation, domestic and global violence, and more. Thinking about regeneration (oh joy!) in the midst of peril (oh no!) moved my writing in a particular direction, and eventually I produced the poems you’ll read in this book.
Since it’s National Poetry month, what is your favorite poetry collection? Or favorite poem?
I always have a hard time answering this question. I’m a poet and a professor of poetry. This means I read for a living and I read for pleasure. There is just no way I can narrow things down to one favorite. Because I know that this question is meant to help readers discover poetry they might love, I can give a list of five books I find myself returning to again and again.
The Collected Poems of Lucille Clifton (1965-2000). Boa Editions.
The Apple Trees at Olema, Robert Hass. (Ecco)
Catalog of Unabashed Gratitude, Ross Gay (Pittshburg UP)
Citizen, Claudia Rankine (Graywolf Press)
The Verging Cities, Natalie Scenters-Zapico (Center for Literary Publishing)
Why do you think poetry is so important?
The great poet Audre Lorde says, in her essay “Poetry is Not a Luxury”: “Poetry is the way we help give name to the nameless so it can be thought.” I agree. Poetry is a path toward empathy. Poetry is a path toward a deep brand of knowledge. Poetry is a means toward inscribing beauty on a broken world. Poetry is a register of life. I could go on…
In one sentence, what advice would you give a student who is an aspiring poet?
Read more poetry.
And that seems like the perfect thing to leave you with at the end of this month of celebration. Consider this your charge for not just the next month but for the next 365 days: Read more poetry. (And if you need any recommendations, just ask us).