Camille T. Dungy


Poet and editor Camille T. Dungy was born in Denver but moved often as her father, an academic physician, taught at many different medical schools across the country. She earned a BA from Stanford University and an MFA from the University of North Carolina, Greensboro. Dungy’s full-length poetry publications include Trophic Cascade (2017); Smith Blue (2011), a finalist for the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America; Suck on the Marrow (2010), winner of an American Book Award, a California Book Award silver medal, and the Northern California book award; and the sonnet collection What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (2006), a finalist for both the PEN Center USA Literary Award and the Library of Virginia Literary Award. Dungy edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (2009), which won a Northern California Book Award and was nominated for an NAACP Image Award. She was also co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great (2009), and assistant editor for Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade (2006). Dungy's most recent work includes the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (2017). Dungy has won the Dana Award and the Sustainable Arts Foundation Promise Award, and was a finalist for the NAACP Image Award in 2010 and 2011. Dungy has also received fellowships and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, the American Antiquarian Society, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, the Djerrasi Resident Artist Program, Yaddo, Virginia Center for Creative Arts, and the Norton Island Artist Residency Program. Dungy is currently a professor in the English department at Colorado State University. Source

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.





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Literary Devices:


a figure of speech in which words repeat at the beginning of successive clauses, phrases, or sentences


a short quotation or saying at the beginning of a book or chapter, intended to suggest its theme


visually descriptive or figurative language, especially in a literary work