In Smith Blue, Camille T. Dungy offers a survival guide for the modern heart as she takes on twenty-first-century questions of love, loss, and nature. From a myriad of lenses, these poems examine the human capability for perseverance in the wake of heartbreak; the loss of beloved heroes and landscapes; and our determination in the face of everyday struggles. Dungy exploresIn Smith Blue, Camille T. Dungy offers a survival guide for the modern heart as she takes on twenty-first-century questions of love, loss, and nature. From a myriad of lenses, these poems examine the human capability for perseverance in the wake of heartbreak; the loss of beloved heroes and landscapes; and our determination in the face of everyday struggles. Dungy explores the dual nature of our presence on the planet, juxtaposing the devastation caused by human habitation with our own vulnerability to the capricious whims of our environment. In doing so, she reveals with fury and tenderness the countless ways in which we both create and are victims of catastrophe.This searing collection delves into the most intimate transformations wrought by our ever-shifting personal, cultural, and physical terrains, each fraught with both disillusionment and hope. In the end, Dungy demonstrates how we are all intertwined, regardless of race or species, living and loving as best we are able in the shadows of both man-made and natural follies. Flight It is the day after the leaves, when buckeyes, like a thousand thousand pendulums, clock trees, and squirrels, fat in their winter fur, chuckle hours, chortle days. It is the time for the parting of our ways. You slid into the summer of my sleeping, crept into my lonely hours, ate the music of my dreams. You filled yourself with the treated sweet I offered, then shut your rolling eyes and stole my sleep. Came morning and me awake. Came morning. Awake, I walked twelve miles to the six-gun shop. On the way there I saw a bird-of-prayer all furled up by the river. I called to it. It would not unfold. On the way home I killed it. It is the time of the waking cold, when buckeyes, like a thousand thousand metronomes, tock time, and you, fat on my summer sleep, titter toward me, walk away. It is the time for the parting of our days....
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Smith Blue Reviews
I should admit that I know the poet slightly--she read a poem (not one of her own) at my older son's wedding. She is as good a reader as she is a writer. She has won a number of awards, and this is the latest of her collections. The other two are provocatively titled: Suck on the Marrow and What to Eat, What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison. The current title has to do with a rare and endangered butterfly and an entomologist who died at the time of its discovery. The poem I keep coming back to in this collection is "Prayer for P---," a series of eight poems, reflecting on the terrible death, apparently a suicide, of a friend. Each of the eight is an acrostic, so that the first letter of each line spells out one line from the following translation of a poem by C.P. Cavafy:The sea took a sailor into its depths--His mother, unknowing, goes before the Virginand lights a tall candlefor him to come back soon and for good weather--and always keeps her ear alert for the wind.But while she prays and entreats her,the icon listens, grave and sad,knowing the son she waits for will never return.Dungy's series of poems, so artfully constructed on this very rigid framework, are a tour de force. My review makes it sound as if all the poems in this collection are death-obsessed, but they are not. At all.
More contemporary, environmental scenes than in her first two books; meditations on how we occupy the physicality of earth or body, and move it or move through it;the sadness of how we have abused as we come to love what we damage--the earth, our own body, other bodies, and the small hope in that love; the kind of meditations we can return to again and again, and I have. "How She Keeps Faith" about the coursing of the river from her origins to the encountering of the dam, yet remaining herself is exemplary. However, some offer less hope than question about human nature as in the brilliant poem,"Daisy Cutter," about cut flowers, cut lives, where Dungy asks, "What gruesome genius invents our brutal hearts?"
What follows must be considered a preview piece and part of an ongoing story about a poet with whose work I have had a deep, longstanding, and admiring engagement:In 2007, for the TENNESSEAN, I reviewed THE RINGING EAR: BLACK POETS LEAN SOUTH, edited by Nikky Finney, which was the first Cave Canem anthology and co-published by UGA Press. I posted the piece here, explaining that I rarely, rarely give five stars to books that are not considered canonical or by living authors; however, Finney's landmark anthology, like its successor, BLACK NATURE, edited by Camille T. Dungy, (UGA Press), WERE already canonical. Dungy, who first came to my attention through the "rogue sonnets" of WHAT TO EAT, WHAT TO DRINK, WHAT TO LEAVE FOR POISON (Red Hen) has gone on to publish another earthy but stellar individual collection, the appropriately titled SUCK ON THE MARROW (also Red Hen, winner of the Northern California Book Award, the American Book Award, as well as a NAACP Image Award nominee), and now has re-entered my ken with SMITH BLUE (Southern Illinois Press and winner of the Crab Orchard Series in Poetry Prize). Dungy, who served as the assistant editor for GATHERING GROUND: A READER CELEBRATING CAVE CANEM'S FIRST DECADE (University of Michigan Press, 2006) with Cornelius Eady and Toi Derricotte, hardly needs my endorsement when there are so many others to be found at http://www.camilledungy.com/Poetry.htm. So for the moment, I'll add only that while I'm still awaiting the arrival of SMITH BLUE, my heart soars every time I see that hawk aloft on its cover.
Attentive, to nature, emotional nuance, and the rhythm of language. The best poems in this collection remind me of a cross between Gwendolyn Brooks and Adrienne Rich. Dung's restrained but beneath the crafted surface, she dives into intensities and contradictions, particularly those between an outwardly comfortable life and the political currents that disturb it, often without direct acknowledgment. "Prayer for P---" is a powerful lament, eulogy for a friend, concentrating on the failures of the dead woman's circle to respond to her suffering. Deep blues. "Daisy Cutter" juxtaposes the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with the superficial normalcy of American life. Other favorites include "Emergency Plan" and "Maybe Tuesday Will Be My Good News Day."
Not, how much // for the lemon? Not how much / for the ivory, the leopard // the peach. (39)She does what she does-- / presumes to be a clementine, / easy to peel (42)Until I learned better, I'd put my tongue on anything. (47)though her heart, brook bed, was damned, / she kept two small thieves, in their sockets, alert; // she commandeered all the rafts in her spine (57)The cat is indecent (65)
I had the pleasure of hearing Camille Dungy speak to a graduate class in Early Childhood Education I'm attending. We are working on poetry and more specifically nature poetry. I could hear Camille's voice as I was reading Smith Blue and I also thought back to some of the stories she told us during class. I love reading these poems over and over again and I'm glad there's more of her work out there for me to read.
Not the biggest fan of this volume. Would've scored it lower if I didn't see her poetry reading. The poems came off a lot better when spoken, but otherwise it is a pretty difficult poetry volume (Not that I mind difficult, I just wasn't a fan of how it was written overall).
Review at my Iowa City blog.
Really good collection of poetry. I love the looks at nature and loss and reinvention.
Camille Dungy's poetry makes me wish I could write poetry. Smart, precise, beautiful use of language and ideas.