One of the many things I appreciate about Camille T. Dungy's anthology Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry is its attention to pests.
Of course, there is plenty of beautiful pastoral writing in the book, like this excerpt from Richard Wright's 12 Million Black Voices:
"The land we till is beautiful, with red and black and brown clay, with fresh and hungry smells, with pine trees and palm trees, with rolling hills and swampy delta...Our southern springs are filled with quiet noises and scenes of growth. Apple buds laugh into blossom. Honeysuckles creep up the sides of houses. Sunflowers nod in the hot fields. From mossy tree to mossy tree--oak, elm, willow, aspen, sycamore, dogwood, cedar, walnut, ash, and hickory--bright green leaves jut from a million branches to form an awning that tries to shield and shade the earth. Blue and pink kites of small boys sail into the windy air."
Wright uses verbs ("apple buds laugh into blossom") and lists (those marvellously specific tree varieties) like a poet. This piece is an example of an African American pastoral trope that contrasts the black writer's spiritual and physical connection to the natural world with the racial threat posed by its human inhabitants, as in Margaret Walker's "Sorrow Home:"
My roots are deep in southern life; deeper than John Brown
or Nat Turner or Robert Lee. I was sired and weaned
in a tropic world. The palm tree and banana leaf,
mango and coconut, breadfruit and rubber trees know me.
O Southland, sorrow home, melody beating in my bone and
blood! How long will the Klan of hate, the hounds and
the chain gangs keep me from my own?
In African American folk traditions, however, this alienation was often expressed via identification with other unvalued creatures: with foxes and coyotes, with rats and roaches. This metaphor was congenial to the more confrontational stance of Black Arts Movement poets like Audre Lorde. Lorde's "The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches" is probably the locus classicus of this distinctive kind of African American nature poem.
your deepest urge
and my brothers and sisters
in the sharp smell of your refusal
roach and presumptuous
nightmare on your white pillow
your itch to destroy
part of yourself.
Call me your own determination
in the most detestable shape
you can become
friend of your image
I am you
in your most deeply cherished nightmare
scuttling through the painted cracks
you create to admit me
into your kitchens
into your fearful midnights
into your values at noon
in your most secret places
you learn to honor me
as I alter--
although your greedy preoccupations
through your kitchen wars
and your poisonous refusal--
In a critical essay included in the book entitled "Boll Weevils, Coyotes, and the Color of Nuisance," C.S. Giscombe recalls a Top Forty version of "The Boll Weevil Song," first performed by Charlie Patton in 1929 but with deep roots in African American folk culture.
Giscombe calls hearing this song "among my early encounters with the stuff of poetry." The nuisance creature poem is an important aspect of nature poetry that Dungy's anthology brings, literally and metaphorically, out of the woodwork.