Sunday, June 29, 2008

Last Lap around the CC Track

even the sun goes down
heroes eventually die
horoscopes often lie
and sometimes why
nothin is for sure
nothin is for certain
nothin lasts forever
but until they close the curtain...

Deidre, are you gonna cry all the way home?

(Outkast + Iain "my ride to Philly" Pollock)

I woke up this morning in a gorgeous ghost town. Like the poets I love had been raptured off and I was left behind with Nandi's iPod waltzing matilda all over my tender places. Then, slowly, a few familiar faces emerged from the open rooms. The tears dried and I started to pack.

What a week. What a place. Have I ever felt so drained and so full at the same time? During our final workshop, Carl Phillips took us outside to the covered benches, and in the middle of workshop it poured down rain. Then the sun came out and filled every raindrop with light.

Graduation was even more beautiful. Janice preached her trial sermon from the Cave Canem pulpit with that awesome salute to us third-years. Annette took us to church with her awesome interpretation of "Count Your Blessings." Rachel's slide show was incredible. Thank you for capturing our light. Thank you Ashaki and the second year fellows for the touching ceremony, the lovely CDs, photos, and postcards. Thank you Toi and Cornelius, Alison and Sarah, Amanda and Remica. Thank you Carl and Claudia and Colleen and Ed, Ms. Shange and Claude. And fellows. Thank you fellows.

Seventeen poets broke the chain last night. We are unleashed. We are bark and whimper and a warm, wet tongue on your hand. Cave Canem is truly, truly a HOME for black poets. But everyone has to leave home sometime.

So maybe, Iain, a few tears will fall. But just for a moment. And then the sun will light them up.

ready for lift-off

'04, '07, '08

Friday, June 27, 2008

Got to Get Over the Hump!

funny how time flies when you're having fun...

--Janet Jackson (as if I needed to tell you)

It's already Friday. It was just Wednesday, just Sunday, just the frantic week before. The last day and a half has been a beautiful blur. Last year, I referred to CC as "poetry camp." This year, I realize it's boot camp! That's the middle of the week for you. There was some really intense energy among the fellows yesterday. Intense, yet exhausted. We were all a little edgy and it came out in the work. Several fellows mentioned a somber, heavy tone to the work that was workshopped. After tapping our souls for three days straight, we need a collective nap. Or another cup of coffee, one.

I can't make this too long because I, too, have fallen behind, but I didn't want to leave y'all hanging. Some magnificent things have happened in the midst of this whirlwind schedule. We held an impromptu poetry jam in Village Hall at 2:30 in the morning. Rachel Eliza Griffiths has spirited a bunch of us up to her studio in Selene House where she has taken the most exquisite photos. That is a bad sista! We've had spades games, tarot readings, astrological conversations, religious discoveries, pizza parties, and sangria. We've swapped war stories from classrooms and MFA programs and traded techniques on every aspect of our lives. Each of us are students, each of us, teachers. We have pushed each others buttons, pushed our own limits, experimented with forms, techniques, attitudes.

Yet in the midst of it all, real life encroaches. Perhaps encroaches is too sinister a word. Life is. If life was not, what would we write about? And yet, life has a way of squeezing out reflection, if we let it, even here, at Cave Canem. There are children to check on, bills that need to be paid, work that needs to be done. Exhausted as I was, I managed to pump out an (overdue) article and advertisement this morning. That's one thing I've learned this week: if I push myself, I can lift mountains. But what a strain on the muscles!

It's time to s l o w d o w n. It's already Friday. I have done a lot, yet I've missed a lot. You can't do it all. I missed the fellows workshops (again). I also missed the remembrance ceremony for the fellows who have left this phase of life behind. (Ross Gay is going to help me fill you in soon.) I have made all the evening readings, which as you well know, are unbelievable. There is enough talent in these four dormitories to raise the dead. Last night, we went to Westmoreland Museum of American Art to witness the power of our three new fellows (it's hard to count Carl Phillips as new because he was last year's guest poet): Ed Roberson, Claudia Rankine and Collen McElroy.

I have the tremendous honor and pleasure of hosting tonight's fellows reading. It is the polyurethane coating on my CC experience. Well, it smells a lot better than polyurethane, lol. I hope Einstein is right. I hope time is relative, and I can stretch each second into an hour. Because otherwise I will blink and it will be Sunday morning, and I will be packing my bags for the last time. But there is not enough room in my luggage to carry all that I have gathered here. I guess that's why God blessed me with this all this body ;)


Monday, June 23, 2008

"I have personal knowledge of the wind..."

***this blog was supposed to go up last night, but blogger was trippin***

So I had my first of what I'm sure will be many emotional moments today. It wasn't the first tear I've shed since my arrival. Ms. Ntozake Shange ripped that bad boy clean out of the duct with a wicked piece called "Crack Annie" that she read for us during this morning's craft workshop. Not to rub it in, but she and her companion Clyde also blessed us with an exclusive preview of a new vignette for the upcoming Broadway production of For Colored Girls...

The week's first workshop didn't do it either. I am honored to be in the marvelous company of Group C this year, and we had a wonderful experience with Colleen McElroy, who is a dynamic first-year faculty member. It is always amazing to see how many different children the night (and wee hours of the morning) gives birth to. I worked hard on my poem, harder than I've worked on any poem I've written here except maybe the final poem of last year's workshop. I found myself whining to my suite mates and new-found friends because the poem wasn't coming together.

"I wish my poems were like pre-fab houses," I complained. "This is like sawing down the tree first." But in that moment, I recognized the process at work. We are creating from scratch, and it is messy business. Suddenly, I knew what it meant to sweat for a poem. To have something so important to say that it is worth the effort to find the right words, the right metaphor, to apply a substantial amount of the advice I have heard here over the years. To craft something that is powerful and beautiful and true in equal measure.

That poem didn't make me cry, either. What did it, was Cornelius. You know, everybody says Toi is the tear jerker of our founding duo. I have yet to cry in one of her workshops. Cornelius is supposed to be the laid back one, right? But while he was reading "Gratitude" this evening, transporting us back to those classrooms, those cold places where Gwendolyn Brooks' pushmen and our own demonic doubts lurk, I imagined what my life would have been like if I had never come to Cave Canem. I imagined what my life would be like after this week, after this summer... no more faculty readings, no more fellows readings. A sista got a little misty, you know what I'm saying? I know that's not "in the moment" but can a poet ever truly practice that Zen state? Isn't our craft dependent upon weaving together existence, memory, and projection?

I just want to say how grateful I am for this experience, for the opportunity to know you (all of the fellows I have come to know), to spend time with you, to laugh with you, to cry with you, to party with you, to write with you, to learn from you, to grow with you. I feel one of those good gut-deep church balcony crying sessions coming on. That first year, I got up on the fellows stage, and you guys leapt to your feet. Your appreciation of my words, of the person behind the words was so sincere. It was so pure and spontaneous. It knocked me to the ground, and when I got up, I was not the same Deidre. That kicked off something inside me that goes so much deeper than ego or pride. Something started to heal in me.

I know people laugh at us and think we are crazy because we speak of Cave Canem so deeply. To the outside, it sounds cultish. Certain people who shall remain nameless seem to enjoy poking holes in Cave Canem. Zora put it best: you got to go there to know there.

So to each of them, Love.


Sunday, June 22, 2008

Back in the Land of Milk and Honey

i got my home
in the promised land
i feel at home
can you overstand

Said the road is rocky
sure feels good to me
and if i'm lucky
together we'd always be

i will ride it

Rainbow Country - Bob Marley

So my third year has officially begun. Funny enough, this was the first year I actually made the entire welcome circle. All week, I've been thinking about how much I've grown as a poet and as a person since 2004, when I first set foot on the Greensburg campus. I actually drafted this blog on the long bus ride from DC (another first, and probably the reason I was actually on time), but I said a lot of it in the welcome circle.

I guess the most important things are why I love coming here, what I hope to accomplish, and ... I don't want this blog to turn into a lot of introspective blah blah blah, though. Tonight, I sat in a room full of the most incredible people God ever allowed to walk the earth. I mean that. So many thoughtful, powerful, creative, beautiful black people. Tonight's circle reminded me that we all have a voice. Not just those of us who claim the title of poet, but all of us. All of us have something to say.

Even George Bush? I thought of Sonia Sanchez as I typed that. I picked him because he is an extreme case. I remember Sister Sanchez saying that we rob ourselves of our own humanity when we deny the humanity of our "enemies." It is easy, in a sense, to champion the weak, the small, the ordinary... the people who are downtrodden and denied the right to speak. I mean, it's not easy to champion them in a world that celebrates power, glory, might, and wealth. But it is easier to root for the underdog than to say that those who stand as exploiters also have a voice.

I totally wasn't expecting to go here tonight. I figured I would write about how beautiful and awesome Cave Canem is. I think this is precisely the beauty of Cave Canem. The alchemy of bringing all these different vibrations, these different experiences and perceptions and catalogs of words and images together. Cave Canem is an energy field like nothing else I have ever experienced. We are magnetizing each other by our presence, by our discussions. This is fertile ground. Isn't that how poetry happens? If we are brave, one predictable train of thought makes a sharp right turn, and suddenly we are in the wilderness, using all of our craft tools to mold a way out or at the very least, an explanation (or exploration?) of the landscape.

This week is a time when we can risk wondering whether George Bush has a voice that needs to be honored just as much as Cynthia McKinney's, even if we despise nearly everything that he has to say. Does Nelly have the right to express his voice, even if it means bastardizing a little girl's hand clap to detail the set-up of a drive-by shooting? Does the virus have as much a right to exist as the antibody?

Cave Canem is a place for exploring language, and for exploring ideas about life through language. And the risks we learn to take here follow us home. I know that they will follow me far beyond the three years of fellowship. I don't want to think about the end of this week because I might miss something by jumping out of the moment (thanks for the reminder, Remica). I can accept it though because it's (almost) time for me to relinquish my position and allow another poet to contribute and receive from this body, this organism that is Cave Canem. And it's time for me to graduate, and take my work to the next level. That's what Cave Canem is to me... an incubator (thanks CM).

Now. I have a poem to write. 10 am comes mighty fast, and I want to have a little time at least to enjoy the fellowship of my fellow poets. So I will leave whoever you are, dear reader, to think about what language means to you, who has a right to speak, and what responsibilities they bear for the speech they choose to utter. Feel free to chime in at will. Till next time...


Monday, June 16, 2008


(click for larger view)

THE RINGING EAR at New York University

On April 25, 2008 at NYU, five poets (Alvin Aubert, Randall Horton, Mendi Lewis Obadike, and Gwen T. Samuels) featured in Cave Canem's THE RINGING EAR: BLACK POETS LEAN SOUTH read their work in promotion of the anthology.

Alvin Aubert

Dante Micheaux

Mendi Lewis Obadike [link]

Randall Horton

Kamilah Aisha Moon

Gwen T. Samuels

Tayari Jones [link]

Charles and Myronn

Cave Canem Co-Founder Cornelius Eady Debuts New Collection HARDHEADED WEATHER

On April 23rd, 2008, Cave Canem fellows and friends joined Cornelius Eady at The New School to celebrate the release of his collection of new and selected poems HARDHEADED WEATHER.

Toi Derricotte

Cornelius Eady

T. Derricotte and Kamilah Aisha Moon

Walter Mosley and Alison Meyers

Yusef Komunyakaa and associates

Myronn Hardy, Marcus Jackson, and Dante Micheaux

Evie Shockley and C. Eady