Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

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Black Nature is the first anthology to focus on nature writing by African American poets, a genre that until now has not commonly been counted as one in which African American poets have participated.

Black poets have a long tradition of incorporating treatments of the natural world into their work, but it is often read as political, historical, or protest poetry—anything but nature poetry. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes nature writing is limited to work about the pastoral or the wild.

Camille T. Dungy has selected 180 poems from 93 poets that provide unique perspectives on American social and literary history to broaden our concept of nature poetry and African American poetics. This collection features major writers such as Phillis Wheatley, Rita Dove, Yusef Komunyakaa, Gwendolyn Brooks, Sterling Brown, Robert Hayden, Wanda Coleman, Natasha Trethewey, and Melvin B. Tolson as well as newer talents such as Douglas Kearney, Major Jackson, and Janice Harrington. Included are poets writing out of slavery, Reconstruction, the Harlem Renaissance, the Black Arts Movement, and late twentieth- and early twenty-first-century African American poetic movements.

Black Nature brings to the fore a neglected and vital means of considering poetry by African Americans and nature-related poetry as a whole.

A Friends Fund Publication.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
No pleasures are more aesthetic than poetry and nature, so it is only natural that the two should unite. Editor Dungy here merges the worlds in a satisfying compilation that features over 100 poems by 93 African American poets, including celebrated writers June Jordan and Yusef Komunyakaa as well as newer artists like Remica L. Bingham and Indigo Moor. The collection, which is assembled in cycles that beg "Nature, Be with Us," recognizes "Pest, People Too," and recalls "What the Land Remembers," explores a multitude of themes that incorporate the beauty, transformation, and unpredictability of Earth's elements. Though the collection moves away from political and protest poetry, readers will likely appreciate "Disasters, Natural and Other," as the section draws from familiar incidents. James A. Emanuel's "Emmett Till" paints a haunting yet wondrous fantasy of his spirit, while Douglas Kearney's historical "Floodsong 2: Water Moccasin's Spiritual" has contemporary relevance following Hurricane Katrina. VERDICT Expanding the realm of traditional nature poetry and African American writings, this work will appeal to readers of both genres.—Ashanti White, Univ. of North Carolina at Greensboro
From the Publisher

"Dungy has compiled what might have taken a lifetime to assemble, yet here it is at this moment when our culture is assessing both its relationship to the natural world and its relationship with its black citizens. The timing could not be better for such a comprehensive look at what black poets have contributed to our understanding of nature. What excites about this anthology is that it is not only the richest and most comprehensive collection of poems by black poets I have read, it is the richest and most comprehensive collection of poems about nature that I have read. I believe the book should be widely read, taught, and talked about."--Alison Hawthorne Deming, author of Rope

"Black Nature is the most exciting anthology of poetry I've read in years. In part this reflects the superb quality and remarkable range of Camille Dungy's selections. But it also comes from her decision to organize the book's contents into ten thematic "cycles" rather than chronologically. Each of the sections responds distinctively and dramatically to Lucille Clifton's question with which Dungy frames the entire volume: "why/is there under that poem always/ an other poem?" This collection will quickly become essential reading for poets and scholars, as well as for courses on American poetry and the literature of nature."--John Elder, author of Reading the Mountains of Home

"Camille Dungy’s anthology, Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, offers a fresh new vision of the African American poetic canon. In eliciting black poems that redefine the Western tradition of nature poetry, she has provided a new configuration for African American poetry, one that is postmodern and neo-pastoralist. Black Nature expands the horizon of black poetry from the frequently anthologized themes of blues, social commentary, and urban pastoral and demonstrates that black is also green, a theme consonant with the twenty-first century. Publishing many young poets writing since the post Black Arts Movement, Dungy’s Black Nature achieves a contemporary emphasis. It is ideal for introductory and advanced African American literature courses."--Robert Chrisman, Editor-in-Chief, The Black Scholar

"With extraordinary insight and substantial creative vision the rich synthesis of this anthology offers a strikingly original contour to the seasons of black poets and poetry. The critical wisdom accumulated here is as important as the beautifully structured cycles that Dungy uses as landscaped categories to contain these important poems. The methodology here is as graceful as it is rigorously intelligent. Dungy's anthology is a major contribution to twenty-first century Black Studies."--Karla FC Holloway, author of BookMarks: Reading in Black and White—A Memoir

"Just as nature is too often defined as wilderness when, in fact, nature is everywhere we are, our nature poetry is too often defined by Anglo-American perspectives, even though poets of all backgrounds write about the living world...Dungy enlarges our understanding of the nexus between nature and culture, and introduces a 'new way of thinking about nature writing and writing by black Americans.'"—Booklist (starred review)

"No pleasures are more aesthetic than poetry and nature, so it is only natural that the two should unite. Editor Dungy here merges the worlds in a satisfying compilation that features over 100 poems by 93 African American poets, including celebrated writers June Jordan and Yusef Komunyakaa as well as newer artists like Remica L. Bingham and Indigo Moor."—Library Journal

"Camille Dungy believes that white and black poets look differently at nature, with whites primarily noticing its beauty and blacks seeing its harshness. The view, Dungy says, is intensified by the black experience of slavery. An edgy mix of pastoral and political, her anthology, Black Nature, testifies to her point."—Baltimore Sun

"One of the few anthologies that can be picked up and read like a novel cover to cover without metaphor overload. Black Nature is well thought out, well edited, and timed."—Phati'tude Literary Magazine

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780820334318
  • Publisher: University of Georgia Press
  • Publication date: 12/1/2009
  • Pages: 432
  • Sales rank: 420,629
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Camille T. Dungy is an associate professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. She is the author of two poetry collections, What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison and Suck on the Marrow, and has helped edit two other poetry anthologies.
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Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xvii

Introduction: The Nature of African American Poetry
Camille T. Dungy xix

Cycle One: Just Looking

Ed Roberson “We Must Be Careful” 3
Lucille Clifton “the earth is a living thing” 6
Al Young “The Mountains of California: Part I” 7
G. E. Patterson “The Mountain Road Ends Here” 8
June Jordan “Queen Anne’s Lace” 9
George Moses Horton “On Summer” 10
Nikki Giovanni “The Yellow Jacket” 12
Yusef Komunyakaa “Eclogue at Twilight” 14
Marilyn Nelson “Ruellia Noctifl ora” 16
Rita Dove “Evening Primrose” 18
Robert Hayden “The Night-Blooming Cereus” 19
George Marion McClellan “A September Night” 22
Thylias Moss “Sweet Enough Ocean, Cotton” 23
Helene Johnson “Metamorphism” 25
Toni Wynn “a brown girl’s nature poem: provincetown” 26
Gerald Barrax Sr. “What More?” 27
Ed Roberson “be careful” 29
Rachel Eliza Gri÷ths “Watching Blackbirds Turn to Ghosts” 30
Alvin Aubert “If Winter Comes, Can Spring?” 32
Evie Shockley “31 words
• prose poems [#12]” 33

Cycle Two: Nature, Be with Us

Ravi Howard “We Are Not Strangers Here” 37
James A. Emanuel “For a Farmer” 39
Gerald Barrax Sr. “To Waste at Trees” 40
Carl Phillips “White Dog” 41
Evie Shockley “you must walk this lonesome” 42
Cyrus Cassells “Down from the Houses of Magic” 43
George Marion McClellan “The Ephemera” 49
Ruth Ellen Kocher “Sleepwalker on the Mountain” 50
Richard Wright #543 51
Mark McMorris “Aphrodite of Economy” 52
Marilyn Nelson “Arachis Hypogaea” 53
Anthony Walton “In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson” 54
Camille T. Dungy “Language” 55
June Jordan “For Alice Walker (a summertime tanka)” 56
Lucille Clifton “generations” 57
Yusef Komunyakaa “Work” 58
Ross Gay “Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be” 60
Sterling Brown “To a Certain Lady, in Her Garden” 63
Ed Roberson “Urban Nature” 65
Reginald Shepherd “September Songs” 66

Cycle Three: Dirt on Our Hands

Richard Wright from 12 Million Black Voices 71
Anne Spencer “Another April” 74
Gerald Barrax Sr. “Barriers” 75
Lenard D. Moore “A Young Peacock” 76
Major Jackson “Urban Renewal: XIII” 77
Audre Lorde “The Bees” 78
Anthony Walton “Carrion” 80
June Jordan “look at the blackbird fall” 82
Wanda Coleman “Flight of the California Condor” 83
Camille T. Dungy “Since Everyone Can Never Be Safe” 87
Patricia Smith “Won’t Be But a Minute” 90
Michael S. Harper “Called” 91
Jean Toomer “Harvest Song” 93
Arna Bontemps “A Black Man Talks of Reaping” 95
Melvin Dixon “Wood and Rain” 96
Claude McKay “Joy in the Woods” 97
Margaret Walker “Sorrow Home” 99
Honorée Fanonne Je≈ers “Blues Aubade (or, Revision of the Lean, Post-Modernist Pastorale)” 100
Ed Roberson “romance” 102
Alice Dunbar-Nelson “April Is on the Way” 103

Cycle Four: Pests, People Too

C. S. Giscombe “Boll Weevils, Coyotes, and the Color of Nuisance” 109
Amber Flora Thomas “Miscarriage in October with Ladybugs” 114
Gregory Pardlo “Man Reading in Bed by a Window with Bugs” 116
Major Jackson “Pest” 117
Tim Seibles “Ambition II: Mosquito in the Mist” 119
Richard Wright #459 122
Thomas Sayers Ellis “The Market” 123
Tara Betts “For Those Who Need a True Story” 124
Lenard D. Moore “Postcard to an Ecologist” 126
C. S. Giscombe “Nature Boy” 127
Robert Hayden “A Plague of Starlings” 128
Janice N. Harrington “O Believer” 130
Audre Lorde “The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches” 132
Kwame Alexander “Life” 134
Kamilah Aisha Moon “What a Snakehead Discovered in a Maryland Pond and a Poet in Corporate America Have in Common” 135
Shane Book “The Lost Conquistador” 137
Lucille Clifton “the beginning of the end of the world” 141
Natasha Trethewey “Carpenter Bee” 142
Yusef Komunyakaa “Yellowjackets” 144

Cycle Five: Forsaken of the Earth

Alice Walker “The Flowers” 147
Phillis Wheatley “On Imagination” 149
Nikki Giovanni “For Saundra” 151
G. E. Patterson “The Natural World” 153
Langston Hughes “Lament for Dark Peoples” 154
Anne Spencer “White Things” 155
Rita Dove “Parsley” 156
Paul Laurence Dunbar “The Haunted Oak” 159
Albery Whitman from Rape of Florida, Canto I 162
Douglas Kearney “Swimchant of Nigger Mer-Folk (An Aquaboogie Set in Lapis)” 166
Clarence Major “Water usa” 167
Major Jackson “Migration” 168
Ruth Ellen Kocher “February Leaving” 169
Ed Roberson “blue horses” 171
Gwendolyn Brooks “Sick Man Looks at Flowers” 172
Arna Bontemps “Prodigal” 173
Cynthia Parker-Ohene “potters’ field” 174
Natasha Trethewey “Monument” 175

Cycle Six: Disasters, Natural and Other

Mona Lisa Saloy “Disasters, Nature, and Poetry” 179
Askia M. Touré “Floodtide” 184
Sterling Brown “Children of the Mississippi” 188
James A. Emanuel “Emmett Till” 191
devorah major “sign post” 192
Audre Lorde “Song” 193
G. E. Patterson “The Sacred History of the Earth” 195
Yusef Komunyakaa “A Greenness Taller Than Gods” 196
Patricia Spears Jones “San Francisco, Spring 1986” 197
Carl Phillips “The Cure” 199
Natasha Trethewey “Liturgy” 201
Jean Toomer “Reapers” 203
Ishmael Reed “Earthquake Blues” 204
Amber Flora Thomas “Erasure” 206
Douglas Kearney “Floodsong 2: Water Moccasin’s Spiritual” 208
Anne Spencer “Requiem” 210
Robert Hayden “Ice Storm” 211

Cycle Seven: Talk of the Animals

Sean Hill “A Shepherd’s Tale” 215
Jean Toomer “Beehive” 218
Rachel Eliza Griffiths “Black-and-White Dusk at Limantour Beach” 219
Paul Laurence Dunbar “Sympathy” 221
Melvin B. Tolson “The Sea-Turtle and the Shark” 222
Richard Wright #175 224
Harryette Mullen “European Folk Tale Variant” 225
Wendy S. Walters “Man Raised as Chicken” 226
C. S. Giscombe “Far” 227
Shara McCallum “The Spider Speaks” 228
Cyrus Cassells “The Hummingbird” 229
Tim Seibles “The Herd” 230
Cornelius Eady “Speed” 233
Ishmael Reed “Points of View” 234
Wanda Coleman “Requiem for a Nest” 235
Clarence Major “Surfaces and Masks: XXX” 236
Toi Derricotte “The Minks” 237
Janice N. Harrington “Possum” 239
Afaa Michael Weaver “The Appaloosa” 244
G. E. Patterson “April Lyric / All I Know Is” 245

Cycle Eight: What the Land Remembers

Honorée Fanonne Je≈ers “April in Eatonton” 249
Robert Hayden “Locus” 252
Myronn Hardy “Jaguaripe” 254
Janice N. Harrington “What There Was” 256
Frank X Walker “Wind Talker” 258
Lucille Clifton “mulberry fi elds” 260
E. Ethelbert Miller “I Am Black and the Trees Are Green” 261
Amaud Jamaul Johnson “The Maple Remains” 262
Douglas Kearney “Tallahatchie Lullabye, Baby” 264
June Jordan “Out in the Country of My Country” 265
Rita Dove “Three Days of Forest, a River, Free” 266
Claudia Rankine “American Light” 267
C. S. Giscombe “Look Ahead, Look South: the future” 269
Margaret Walker “Southern Song” 270
Ed Roberson “Wave” 271
Evie Shockley “her table mountain” 272
Sherley Anne Williams from “Juneteenth: The Bicentennial Poem” 274
Indigo Moor “Tap-Root” 276
Marilyn Nelson “Last Talk with Jim Hardwick” 278
Michael S. Harper “History as Apple Tree” 279

Cycle Nine: Growing Out of This Land

Camille T. Dungy “Writing Home” 283
Richard Wright #559 286
Yusef Komunyakaa “The Millpond” 287
Sean Hill “Seven Pastorals at Sixteen” 290
Janice N. Harrington “Before a Screen Door” 293
Indigo Moor “Pull” 295
C. S. Giscombe “Two Directions” 297
Marilyn Nelson “My Grandfather Walks in the Woods” 298
Stephanie Pruitt “Mississippi Gardens” 300
Gerald Barrax Sr. “I Called Them Trees” 301
Wanda Coleman “Beaches. Why I Don’t Care for Them” 303
Ruth Ellen Kocher “At 57, My Father Learns to Grow Things” 305
Gregory Pardlo “Suburban Noir” 306
June Jordan “Letter to the Local Police” 307
Frank X Walker “Homeopathic” 309
Terrance Hayes “Root” 310
Audre Lorde “What My Child Learns of the Sea” 312
Remica L. Bingham “The Ritual of Season” 313
Mark McMorris “More Than Once in Caves” 315
Al Young “Pachuta, Mississippi / A Memoir” 317

Cycle Ten: Comes Always Spring

Marilyn Nelson “First Skunk of Spring” 321
Anne Spencer “[Earth, I Thank You]” 325
Sean Hill “Bemidji in Spring” 326
Nikki Giovanni “Winter Poem” 328
Claude McKay “After the Winter” 329
Joanne V. Gabbin “For Alexis” 330
Ross Gay “Thank You” 333
George Marion McClellan “Spring Dawn” 334
James Weldon Johnson “Deep in the Quiet Wood” 335
Alice Dunbar-Nelson “Violets” 336
Claudia Rankine “The Man. His Bowl. His Raspberries.” 337
Camille T. Dungy “What to Eat, and What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison” 338
Langston Hughes “Earth Song” 342
Jessie Redmon Fauset “Rondeau” 343
Kendra Hamilton “Southern Living” 344
Elizabeth Alexander “Geraniums” 346
Margaret Walker “My Mississippi Spring” 347
Tim Seibles “Fearless” 348

Credits 351

List of Contributors 361

Index of Authors 379

Index of Titles 383

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