Tuesday, June 27, 2006

The Week in Pictures

If you want to see more pictures from this year's Summer Retreat, visit CC fellow Amanda Johnston's site.

SHOW ME THE PICTURES! (page 1) (page 2) (page 3) (page 4)

~Cave Canem

Monday, June 26, 2006

Graduation, Carolyn's Retirement

There seems to be one tradition that Cave Canem will always celebrate at graduation time - the time when those who have completed three years as fellows are given their certificates, and told that they can no longer attend the week-long workshop. It is a tradition of tears, laughter, many hugs, and a wang dang doodle that lasts, as Koko Taylor would say. "alll night looong."

This was a year of many goodbyes. 24 graduates, and the departures of Kwame Dawes, and the retirement of our CC angel, Carolyn Micklem.

Carolyn got quite a few standing ovations as the evening went on. This is an era of transition for Cave Canem. Sarah said it best: Carolyn's departure marks the organization's shift from a kind of family business - as Carolyn is Cornelius' mother-in-law, and CC is the brain/sweatchild of Cornelius and Toi, and she wants and actively pursues the best for the CC folks - as if we were her grandchildren.

Sarah told of the times when she and her mother struggled over the right way to put together grant proposals late at night, how Carloyn guided the process and gave sage advice. Cornelius emphasized how we would not be sitting there without her constant and steady presence.

Carolyn got some great going away presents. The third years passed the hat, and established the Carolyn Micklem Scholarship Fund to help pay for future graduates. The CC board had been struck with the same idea - and so they also started a Carolyn fund! Together, there is now @ $1400 in the Carolyn Micklem Scholarship fund - enough for @ three fellows to atend next year.

Carolyn will also be flown to a vacation in Italy, to the place where Toi and Cornelius first got the idea for Cave Canem.

There was much testimony about Carolyn the other night. Please feel free to give your Carolyn Recollection here.

Carolyn, you know this is not goodbye - We will be in touch, and there will be many hugs at the CC reunion this October. Thank you, thank you, thank you for all you have done, Carolyn. We will never forget your steady shoulder at the wheel.

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Lucille Clifton's Workshop...

That's right - she gave a workshop this morning. I am sure the fellows will share their reflections/notes from the experience by respondig to this blog!


Friday, June 23, 2006

Faculty reading at the Mattress Factory...

Ok, so we all get in the bus, travel through a terrific storm to get to Pittsburgh's Mattress Factory - a funky, edgy art museum that has multiple layers of contemporary art.... and we congregate to hear the voices of Elizabeth Alexander, Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Lucille Clifton, and Patricia Smith. Do I have to tell you that it was an incredible experience? Elizabeth read poems that set us all on edge, drawing particularly from Antebellum Dreambook - It was great to see her setting the tone with grace and smarts and tough, living poems that make us aware. I remember when I first read "Venus Hottentot." THose were some of the first examples of a series of poems that excavated Black history, and they have helped me understand how to combine historical research with poetry. And have you read her new book, "American Sublime?" Get it. Now. Cornelius read from a manuscript that he started years ago, poems that had been meant to be in his second book - it really is fascinating to see how a poet changes over the years, how their voice matures and deepens - the thing is, these poems showed me how you those poems can keep growing in you for so long - and then they blossom out of your page... He also read my personal favorite - "Gratitude." If you ain't read it yet, please check it out. Lucille gave us a great surprise - she read poems that have never been published yet. Ms. Lucille is a kind of poetry godmother here at CC, an elder whose work really does "work." Her reading addressed misogyny, racism, war, and beauty in such simple and unparalleled verse - well, you had to be there... Toi read some fascinating work - in two voices - that addressed her relationship with her mother. Samiya Bashir read the voice of her mother, while Toi read her own voice. The things I really dig about Toi are that she always is taking incredible risks in her poems, both personally and politically - and she is always willing to experiment. Plus - she's my Detroit Homie - we have a shared narrative of Motown. Patricia Smith read a great, long poem about Katrina that ripped the hinges off everybody's lids. Suffice to say that tears were shed. Then she went into her persona poem about Tyrell and his barbershop, and the laughter was shattering out through the doors and onto the streets... Pat got so down-home and low-down when she does her persona poems, she BECOMES the person... And what's the sign of a truly great reading? When you see a whole corner of folks scribblin' lines in their little notepads right afterwards, inspired by the heat and the pull and the wave and the bounty of words they have just witnessed. Yeah, folks were all crouched over with their words right after... poems begetting poems begetting poems begetting poems.

Forgot to mention... Afaa!

Wow... I feel terrible - I forgot to mention that Afaa Weaver read on The first Faculty night as well. I was out running someone to the hospital at the time, and so I missed all of his reading. Afaa is a Cave Canem Elder, and one of my personal heroes. He tackles very difficult issues in his singing, fluid poems.... and he also is a translator of poetry from China. It would be great if one of the fellows could fill in the spaces on his reading as a response to this blog entry. Thanks in advance.


2006 CC Summer Retreat Group Photo

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Fellows' Readings - Tuesday and Wednesday

Folks, We have now completed two days of fellows readings and workshops. The last two days have been full of movement and hustle, and lots of laughter. The workshops have developed their own personalities, each one representin' hard when they step to the mic at the fellows readings. For those who have not attended, let me explain. On the first night of the retreat, the 54 fellows are randomly split into 6 groups, designated A through F. Each day, the groups meet to share and workshop their poems with a different instructor - Kwame Dawes, Cornelius Eady, Toi Derricotte, Cyrus Cassels, Patricia Smith, and Elizabeth Alexander- a very stellar crew. For three nights, twe all get together to hear the fellows poems. Fellows get four minutes to read their work, and that is four minutes of pure appreciation. It is the time that the entire group gets to hear your poetry, a time that we all get to really see where we are all coming from on an artistic level. It is always amazing to me to see so many different voices come out of this experience - Older (our oldest participant this year, Ms. Carrie McCray, is in her 90's) and younger - quite a few of the folks are in their 20's and 30's - and all ages in between. Voices from the east, west, north, south and Caribbean and beyond. Poems from the sidewalked city and poems from the far out countryside. Verse in all kinds of accents - from carefully "broken" english to the high diction of PhD's to the Caribbean lilt. Gay voices and straight voices, "political" poems rubbing soulders with love poems rubbing (whatever) with "spoken word" poems gettin' funky with formal poems, and all of them poems dancin' a huckabuck electric slide across the room. I have heard from some folks that there is a "Cave Canem" poem - that there is a formula behind the kind of poem that gets one accepted into this experience. I wish that those folks could sit in on some of these readings, to see just how incredibly wrong that notion is. There ain't no particular kind of poem you need to write yourself into CC. You just have to write what you truly feel needs to be written, and to do it the best, most skillful, most honest, most original way you know how.


Readings, Writings, Rovings, Rita

Sorry for the delay in writing this - it has been hectic here. The Monday Night faculty readings were fantastic. We heard from Kwame Dawes, Cyrus Cassels, and Rita Dove. All were fantastic in their own way. Kwame did a great duet with Kevin Simmonds, who sang spirituals that wove themselves seamlessly into the lines of Kwame's "Wisteria" poems. Cyrus had a stirring reading - going from the work in his previous books (Soul Make a Path Through Shouting, Beautiful Signore, and, most recently More than Peace and Cypresses) to new work that addresses World War 2 and Europe. Rita Dove's work was commanding and a real lesson in perseverance. What do you do when your house literally burns down and you lose so many memories? You start over, slowly and deliberately as she did after her conflagration, and then you might even end up dancing - like she does in American Smooth. After the reading, Rita gave a workshop. It turns out that Rita is a bit of a night owl- she chose to start the workshop after the reading , and so it started at 11 pm. But do I need to tell you that it was completely packed with faculty and fellows? Black Pulitzer Prize- Poet Laureates ain't givin out workshops every day - and nobody was gonna miss this one. Rita handed out a list of Seven Statements that define her attitude toward poetry. Sneak Peek:The first statement started with "No Excuses." She took every question folks could think of, and she was incredibly open and giving throughout a session that lasted until @ 2 am! I think Rita had a great time. Her husband, Fred, also seemed to be chillin' as well. They both decided to stay an extra day, so I think they may have felt just a little bit at home.... more later,


Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Shout out to our 06' Fellows!

Hey folks - here is a list of our current 2006 fellows!

'Nuff respect!

First-Year Fellows
Christina Archer
Dwayne Betts
Rachel Griffiths
Myron Hardy
Myronn Hardy
Hallie Hobson
Randall Horton
Marcus Jackson
Jamaal May
JoAnne McFarland
Lydia Melvin
MofolaSayo Ogundiran
Iain Pollock
Lynn Procope
Bianca Spriggs
Kevin Vaughn
Sharon Dennis Wyeth

Second-Year Fellows
James Cagney
Kahn Davison
Nehassaiu deGannes
Carmen Gillespie
Abraham Henderson
Niki Herd
Amanda Johnston
Charles Lynch
Natasha Marin
Dante Micheaux
Jonathan Moody
Obike Reeves
Amber Thomas

Third-Year Fellows
Samiya Bashir
Venise Battle
Remica L. Bingham
Antoinette Brim
Derrick Brown
Christian Campbell
Curtis Crisler
Jarita Davis
Chanda Feldman
Reginald Flood
Aracelis Girmay
Lita Hooper
Linda Susan Jackson
Jadi Keambiroiro
Raina Leon
Carrie McCray
Kamilah Moon
John Murillo
Kevin Simmonds
Renee Simms
Samantha Thornhill
Wendy Walters
Nagueyalti Warren
Demetrice Worley

Cave Canem Update - Monday, June 19

A lot has happened in the past two days – it has been so busy that I have not really had much time to write – sorry! However, I was up pretty late dealing with some late night arrivals and trips to the hospital, etc. - More on that later. This post is about Sunday and Monday.

All of our writers have now arrived, and are in their workshops as I write this. 54 workshop participants this year, and they are all getting to know each other and swapping poems and telling their stories as the week progresses.

Welcoming Circle
The Welcoming Circle on Sunday night lasted about 3 ½ hours – time for all the fellows and the instructors to introduce and reacquaint themselves, complete with some spirituals getting sung, tears being shed, lots of laughter getting’ loose, and individual stories getting’ told. The Welcoming Circle is a tradition that has been passed down since CC’s inception. I first witnessed it in 1997, and it is remarkable how little it has changed over the years – and how moving it is every time. It truly is a beautiful thing to see all these incredible black poets sharing their fears and wishes with each other, and displaying so much trust in such an open way. It’s hard to explain if you haven’t been here, but think family reunion/ church “testifyin’"/ backporch barbecue – and all with folks like you that know the ins and outs and highs and lows of your bigtime love – The Word.

Of course, we had folks coming in all through the afternoon, and late into the night. Folks that had traveled 15 hours on the Greyhound, folks that didn’t arrive until 2:30 a.m. because of delays on the highway, folks that had their cars break down on the highway, had to call the AAA, and got delayed many hours, folks with multiple plane delays, and folks with 3 hour train delays. But wasn’t nobody gettin’ turned around!

Deadlines and Workshops
Even those who came in during the late night managed to turn in a poem for the 10 a.m. deadline - or at least brought copies of their poems to workshop. Yes, every CC fellow has to turn in a new poem for the 10 a.m. deadline each morning. Then, from 2-5 pm, llows separated into groups that scrutinize, cauterize, hospitalize, and find the prize in each poem. After workshop, I heard some folks sayin’ “Yeah, they ripped my poem up – I was so glad for it! I needed that!” For some folks, it is their first workshop experience - for others, CC is a step away from the MFA workshop - a place where they can get critique in a way they just can't in their mostly-white MFA programs.

Of course, we all had dinner @ 6 pm - and then we went to a Faculty Reading - more on that later!

Tyehimba Jess

Cave Canem '06....A New Decade Dawns

Hi -

This is a blog devoted to Cave Canem - a place started in 1996 when Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady decided to create a safe place for Black poets to give birth to all the messy, mojoed, razzmataistical, school-booked, fomal and informal, whisper-screeched poetry that they possibly could. A safe place where we could sing our multi - tongued voices in as many dialects and languages as we saw possible, a place where we could get as gutter-high downlow or downright highbrow as we could, often in the space of the same poem or dialogue or workshop or dancefloor - and as often as possible.

It is a place where I have witnessed soul-to-soul resuscitation through words and tears and stanza breaks - and a place that, over ten years, has produced a prodigious amount of heat from poets who have scribbled, published, and taught their way into the world.

CC has gone through a lot of changes, and is now in a time of transition. A new Executive Director, a new Web Forum, a new anthology, and a new decade have been tha hall marks of 2006. From here I will try to give a view into what has happened in the past, a candid look at what is happening here in Greensburg this week, and whatever I can glean about the future of CC. If the next ten years is anything like the last, then 2016 is gonna be off the chain. (Wow - I can't believe I just wrote 2016!)

I will keep you posted daily - or as daily as I can, given all the liveliness that happens around here in the space of a week. Ya'll be sure to holla back, and let me know what you think , ok?

Until later...

Tyehimba Jess