I've been longing to read and write about (and write poems with) Camille T. Dungy's anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry ever since Dungy came to Austin as the guest of the Pro Arts Collective this spring. I've finally run through my backlog of English garden photos from my summer travels, so today I was able to sit down with this luscious, thoughtful book.
the earth is a living thing
is a black shambling bear
ruffling its wild back and tossing
mountains into the sea
is a black hawk circling
the burying ground circling the bones
picked clean and discarded
is a fish black blind in the belly of water
is a diamond blind in the black belly of coal
is a black and living thing
is a favorite child
of the universe
feel her rolling her hand
in its kinky hair
feel her brushing it clean
In her introduction, Dungy points out that in ecopoetics, a new-millenium movement denoting writing with a strong ecological emphasis or message, African Americans "have been generally absent from tables of contents." Indeed, at the recent Poets and Scholars symposium at The University of Texas, Lesley Wheeler said at a roundtable that for her, ecopoetics seems to be a way to create another white canon in the wake of the opening-up of American poetry more generally to non-white voices.
And yet, as Ravi Howard points out in one of the ten brief critical essays included here, "Waves of paradise carried slave ships. In southern woodlands grew both emancipation oaks and hanging trees. (Could some have been both? Can we ever know?) Along with the rice, tobacco, and cotton, the enslaved grew okra and yams, pieces of home for many transpanted Africans. The connections to nature, those that haunt and those that nurture, have been with us all along."