Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry



Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry

This edition

"Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry" . Ed. Camille T. Dungy. Athens: U of Georgia P, 2009. xxxv+387 pp.

Table of contents

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

Cycle One: Just Looking
• Ed Roberson / We Must Be Careful [prose]
• Lucille Clifton / the earth is a living thing
• Al Young / The Mountains of California: Part I
• G. E. Patterson / The Mountain Road Ends Here
• June Jordan / Queen Anne's Lace
• George Moses Horton / On Summer
• Nikki Giovanni / The Yellow Jacket
• Yusef Komunyakaa / Eclogue at Twilight
• Marilyn Nelson / Ruellia Noctiflora
• Rita Dove / Evening Primrose
• Robert Hayden / The Night-Blooming Cereus
• George Marion McClellan / A September Night
• Thylias Moss / Sweet Enough Ocean, Cotton
• Helene Johnson / Metamorphism
• Toni Wynn / a brown girl's nature poem: provincetown
• Gerald Barrax, Sr. / What More?
• Ed Roberson / be careful
• Rachel Eliza Griffiths / Watching Blackbirds Turn to Ghosts
• Alvin Aubert / If Winter Comes, Can Spring?
• Evie Shockley / 31 words * prose poems [#12]

Cycle Two: Nature, Be with Us
• Ravi Howard / We Are Not Strangers Here [prose]
• James A. Emanuel / For a Farmer
• Gerald Barrax, Sr. / To Waste at Trees
• Carl Phillips / White Dog
• Evie Shockley / you must walk this lonesome
• Cyrus Cassells / Down from the Houses of Magic
• George Marion McClellan / The Ephemera
• Ruth Ellen Kocher / Sleepwalker on the Mountain
• Richard Wright / #543
• Mark McMorris / Aphrodite of Economy
• Marilyn Nelson / Arachis Hypogaea
• Anthony Walton / In the Rachel Carson Wildlife Refuge, Thinking of Rachel Carson
• Camille T. Dungy / Language
• June Jordan / For Alice Walker (a summertime tanka)
• Lucille Clifton / generations
• Yusef Komunyakaa / Work
• Ross Gay / Poem to My Child, If Ever You Shall Be
• Sterling Brown / To a Certain Lady, in Her Garden
• Ed Roberson / Urban Nature
• Reginald Shepherd / September Songs

Cycle Three: Dirt on Our Hands
• Richard Wright / from: 12 Million Black Voices [prose]
• Anne Spencer / Another April
• Gerald Barrax, Sr. / Barriers
• Lenard D. Moore / A Young Peacock
• Major Jackson / Urban Renewal: XIII
• Audre Lorde / Bees
• Anthony Walton / Carrion
• June Jordan / look at the blackbird fall
• Wanda Coleman / Flight of the California Condor
• Camille T. Dungy / Since Everyone Can Never Be Safe
• Patricia Smith / Won't Be But a Minute
• Michael S. Harper / Called
• Jean Toomer / Harvest Song
• Arna Bontemps / A Black Man Talks of Reaping
• Melvin Dixon / Wood and Rain
• Claude McKay / Joy in the Woods
• Margaret Walker / Sorrow Home
• Honorée Fanonne Jeffers / Blues Aubade (or, Revision of the Lean, Post-Modernist Pastorale)
• Ed Roberson / romance
• Alice Dunbar-Nelson / April Is on the Way

Cycle Four: Pests, People Too
• C. S. Giscombe / Boll Weevils, Coyotes, and the Color of Nuisance [prose]
• Amber Flora Thomas / Miscarriage in October with Ladybugs
• Gregory Pardlo / Man Reading in Bed by a Window with Bugs
• Major Jackson / Pest
• Tim Seibles / Ambition II: Mosquito in the Mist
• Richard Wright / #459
• Thomas Sayers Ellis / The Market
• Tara Betts / For Those Who Need a True Story
• Lenard D. Moore / Postcard to an Ecologist
• C. S. Giscombe / Nature Boy
• Robert Hayden / A Plague of Starlings
• Janice N. Harrington / O Believer
• Audre Lorde / The Brown Menace or Poem to the Survival of Roaches
• Kwame Alexander / Life
• Kamilah Aisha Moon / What a Snakehead Discovered in a Maryland Pond and a Poet in Corporate America Have in Common
• Shane Book / Lost Conquistador
• Lucille Clifton / the beginning of the end of the world
• Natasha Trethewey / Carpenter Bee
• Yusef Komunyakaa / Yellowjackets

Cycle Five: Forsaken of the Earth
• Alice Walker / The Flowers [prose]
• Phillis Wheatley / On Imagination
• Nikki Giovanni / For Saundra
• G. E. Patterson / The Natural World
• Langston Hughes / Lament for Dark Peoples
• Anne Spencer / White Things
• Rita Dove / Parsley
• Paul Laurence Dunbar / Haunted Oak
• Albery Whitman / from: "Rape of Florida," Canto I
• Douglas Kearney / Swimchant of Nigger Mer-Folk (An Aquaboogie Set in Lapis)
• Clarence Major / Water USA
• Major Jackson / Migration
• Ruth Ellen Kocher / February Leaving
• Ed Roberson / blue horses
• Gwendolyn Brooks / Sick Man Looks at Flowers
• Arna Bontemps / Prodigal
• Cynthia Parker-Ohene / potters' field
• Natasha Trethewey / Monument

Cycle Six: Disasters, Natural and Other
• Mona Lisa Saloy / Disasters, Nature, and Poetry [prose]
• Askia M. Touré / Floodtide
• Sterling Brown / Children of the Mississippi
• James A. Emanuel / Emmett Till
• devorah major / sign post
• Audre Lorde / Song
• G. E. Patterson / The Sacred History of the Earth
• Yusef Komunyakaa / A Greenness Taller Than Gods
• Patricia Spears Jones / San Francisco, Spring 1986
• Carl Phillips / The Cure
• Natasha Trethewey / Liturgy
• Jean Toomer / Reapers
• Ishmael Reed / Earthquake Blues
• Amber Flora Thomas / Erasure
• Douglas Kearney / Floodsong 2: Water Moccasin's Spiritual
• Anne Spencer / Requiem
• Robert Hayden / Ice Storm

Cycle Seven: Talk of the Animals
• Sean Hill / A Shepherd's Tale [prose]
• Jean Toomer / Beehive
• Rachel Eliza Griffiths / Black-and-White Dusk at Limantour Beach
• Paul Laurence Dunbar / Sympathy
• Melvin B. Tolson / The Sea-Turtle and the Shark
• Richard Wright / #175
• Harryette Mullen / European Folk Tale Variant
• Wendy S. Walters / Man Raised as Chicken
• C. S. Giscombe / Far
• Shara McCallum / The Spider Speaks
• Cyrus Cassells / The Hummingbird
• Tim Seibles / The Herd
• Cornelius Eady / Speed
• Ishmael Reed / Points of View
• Wanda Coleman / Requiem for a Nest
• Clarence Major / Surfaces and Masks: XXX
• Toi Derricotte / The Minks
• Janice N. Harrington / Possum
• Afaa Michael Weaver / The Appaloosa
• G. E. Patterson / April Lyric / All I Know Is

Cycle Eight: What the Land Remembers
• Honorée Fanonne Jeffers / April in Eatonton [prose]
• Robert Hayden / Locus
• Myronn Hardy / Jaguaripe
• Janice N. Harrington / What There Was
• Frank X Walker / Wind Talker
• Lucille Clifton / mulberry fields
• E. Ethelbert Miller / I Am Black and the Trees Are Green
• Amaud Jamaul Johnson / The Maple Remains
• Douglas Kearney / Tallahatchie Lullaby, Baby
• June Jordan / Out in the Country of My Country
• Rita Dove / Three Days of Forest, a River, Free
• Claudia Rankine / American Light
• C. S. Giscombe / Look Ahead, Look South: the future
• Margaret Walker / Southern Song
• Ed Roberson / Wave
• Evie Shockley / her table mountain
• Sherley Anne Williams / from: Juneteenth: the Bicentennial Poem
• Indigo Moor / Tap-Root
• Marilyn Nelson / Last Talk with Jim Hardwick
• Michael S. Harper / History as Apple Tree

Cycle Nine: Growing Out of This Land
• Camille T. Dungy / Writing Home [prose]
• Richard Wright / #559
• Yusef Komunyakaa / The Millpond
• Sean Hill / Seven Pastorals at Sixteen
• Janice N. Harrington / Before a Screen Door
• Indigo Moor / Pull
• C. S. Giscombe / Two Directions
• Marilyn Nelson / My Grandfather Walks in the Woods
• Stephanie Pruitt / Mississippi Gardens
• Gerald Barrax, Sr. / I Called Them Trees
• Wanda Coleman / Beaches, Why I Don't Care for Them
• Ruth Ellen Kocher / At 57, My Father Learns to Grow Things
• Gregory Pardlo / Suburban Noir
• June Jordan / Letter to the Local Police
• Frank X Walker / Homeopathic
• Terrance Hayes / Root
• Audre Lorde / What My Child Learns of the Sea
• Remica L. Bingham / The Ritual of Season
• Mark McMorris / More Than Once in Caves
• Al Young / Pachuta, Mississippi / A Memoir

Cycle Ten: Comes Always Spring
• Marilyn Nelson / First Skunk of Spring [prose]
• Anne Spencer / [Earth, I Thank You]
• Sean Hill / Bemidji in Spring
• Nikki Giovanni / Winter Poem
• Claude McKay / After the Winter
• Joanne V. Gabbin / For Alexis
• Ross Gay / Thank You
• George Marion McClellan / Spring Down
• James Weldon Johnson / Deep in the Quiet Wood
• Alice Dunbar Nelson / Violets
• Claudia Rankine / The Man, His Bowl, His Raspberries
• Camille T. Dungy / What to Eat, and What to Drink, and What to Leave for Poison
• Langston Hughes / Earth Song
• Jessie Redmon Fauset / Rondeau
• Kendra Hamilton / Southern Living
• Elizabeth Alexander / Geraniums
• Margaret Walker / My Mississippi Spring
• Tim Seibles / Fearless

List of Contributors
Index of Authors
Index of Titles

About the anthology

• The anthology includes 182 poems by 93 poets. These are organized into 10 thematic sections, or "cycles" as Dungy calls them, each with an introductory prose text by a different author. Together, they track "a phasic shift from connection to disaffection and back" (xxix). (The character of each cycle as described by Dungy is summarized in the section on the anthology editor's discourse, below.)
• The anthology was nominated for an NAACP Image Award (Morris 2010).

Anthology editor(s)' discourse

• Dungy's introductory essay speaks of her move from Boston (full of people outside one's window) to a college job in Lynchburg, VA (where there was "nothing but trees" outside her window) and the changes in her relation to the natural world that it set in motion. In time, she "began to notice more and more moments of interactions between the human and nonhuman worlds, the Old and New South, and culturally and racially informed views of the natural world. . . . I started writing about the landscape where I lived, and I began to pay attention to what I remembered about the then-semi-rural Southern California landscape of my earlier years. . . . my time in Virginia allowed me to begin to remember the ways and the reasons why I had once felt so comfortable outside. As much as the trees of the American South reminded me of a history steeped in often arbitrarily brutal and always dehumanizing racism, they also helped teach me how to make myself at home. . . . In the same way my personal journey with the pool and its tree led me from indifference to intrigued observation, to an engagement with the devastating realities of history, and finally into a space of renewed connection to the natural world, the collective voice in this collection cycles through the spectrum of alignment with worlds beyond the human" (xx-xxi).
• Dungy describes the dominance of pastoral and Romantic traditions in Anglo-American poetry and the difference of African American nature poetry: "Many black writers simply do not look at their environment from the same perspective as Anglo-American writers who discourse with the natural world. The pastoral as diversion, a construction of a culture that dreams, through landscape and animal life, of a certain luxury or innocence, is less prevalent. Rather, in a good deal of African American poetry we see poems written from the perspective of the workers of the field. Though these poems defy the pastoral conventions of Western poetry, are they not pastorals?" (xxi). One way to approach this question would be to invoke the georgic tradition and the (later) traditions of urban pastorals, and of laboring-class and anti-pastoral poetry of rural life: these might offer better intertexts for African American nature poetry, though the specificities of African American experience remain: "The poems [in this anthology] describe moss, rivers, trees, dirt, caves, dogs, fields: elements of an environment steeped in a legacy of violence, forced labor, torture, and death. Are these not meditations on nature? We find poems set in urban streets. Can these not be landscape poems? The natural world, aligned with or in opposition to the human world, mediates the poems of this anthology. The poems reveal histories stored in various natural bodies. They document natural and human-provoked disasters and their effects on individuals and communities. They explore sources of connection to, but also alienation from, the land" (xxi-xxii). A poet like Burns resonates more closely with African American nature poetry than does a poet like Wordsworth: "Pets and prey, wild and tame, animal and vegetable, birds and insects included, the empathy and commiseration implicit in poems like Kwame Alexander's 'Life,' Audre Lorde's 'The Bees,' and Alice Dunbar-Nelson's 'April Is on the Way' reveal the astonishing degree to which these African American poets and their subjects have aligned themselves with the natural world" (xxii). Dungy's introduction emphasizes, however, the contrast between these African American poems and the dominant Anglo-American tradition.
• "For years, poets and critics have called for a broader inclusiveness in conversations about ecocriticism and ecopoetics, one that acknowledges other voices and a wider range of cultural and ethnic concerns. African Americans, specifically, are fundamental to the natural fabric of this nation but have been noticeably absent from tables of contents. To bring more voices into the conversation about human interactions with the natural world, we must change the parameters of the conversation" (xxi).
• The poems collected in this anthology evidence a wide range of relations to the natural world: "The limits of dominion, empathetic metaphor, and pathetic fallacy are tested in this anthology at both extremes. . . . Elements of the environment simultaneously [or variously] function as imaginative, literal, and figurative realities. . . . Many of this collection's poets remind us of the danger or futility of drawing too close a connection between our emotional landscapes and the realities and responses of the natural world, but others comfortably, sometimes aggressively, remind us how our place in the ecological web implicates the black community and the human race at large in emotional, practical, and creative ways" (xxiii-xxiv).
• "Constructed to accommodate culturally informed perspectives on American social and literary history, 'Black Nature' provides a crucial tool for broadening our concept of what it means to write about nature" (xxvi). In contrast to sentiments about the outdoors and the wilderness as an escape from (other) human beings or from the self, many African American poets suggest that "there is no place in the land where one can idle inattentively or harbor romanticized views. . . . Given the active history of betrayal and danger in the outdoors, it is no wonder that many African Americans link their fears directly to the land that witnessed or abetted centuries of subjugation" (xxvi).
• "Despite all these connections to America's soil, we don't see much African American poetry in nature-related anthologies because, regardless of their presence, blacks haven ot been recognized in their poetic attempts to affix themselves to the landscape. . . . The majority of the works in this collection incorporate treatments of the natural world that are historicized or politicized and are expressed through the African American perspective, which inclines readers to consider these texts as political poems, historical poems, protest poems, socioeconomic commentary, anything but nature poems. This is particularly true when the definition of what constitutes literature about nature or the environment is limited to poems that address the pastoral or the wild, spaces or subjects removed or distanced from human contact. The alternative formulations and representations collected here are often not considered when anthologies, syllabi, and papers about nature or environmental literature are compiled. This collection provides evidence for their inclusion. . . . There are any number of explanations for the exclusion of black nature poetry from the dominant canon to date, but in its origins and in each of its major renaissances, black poetry in America has recorded perspectives on the natural world as various as black perspectives on the nation. A broader understanding of this country and its poetry is occluded when we overlook or refuse to look carefully at black poets' varied use of landscape, animal life, and ecological poetics. 'Black Nature' documents this truth" (xxvii-xxviii).
• "Every attempt has been made to secure permissions for a wide range of the most compelling poems on this subject. . . . There are a few poets whose work a knowledgeable reader of African American poetry might consider an omission from this anthology. In most instances, the poets or their estates were contacted, but, unfortunately, reproduction rights could not be negotiated for this edition. Should a future edition of this collection appear, // the opportunity to remedy these losses will surely be sought out. While acknowledging that the realities of the publishing world mean a certain few poets must necessarily be left out of this anthology, the comprehensive scope of this book is unique. The 93 poets and 180 poems assembled here represent the first and largest collection of African American nature poets and poetry ever published" (xxviii-xxix).
• "Because so many of the poems in this collection address nature in ways that challenge accepted notions about what qualifies as environmental or ecological poetry, ten introductory prose pieces provide frameworks to explain each of the anthology's cycles. Most of the prose pieces were composed by writers who are poets themselves. Their understanding of African American literary and cultural history and the specificity of African American poetics add to this collection's reexamination of the importance of of these poems in the broader discussion of American literature and nature literature, and they position African American poetics within these contexts" (xxix).
• "Cycle One, 'Just Looking,' establishes a framework through which we encounter African American poets recognizing the beauty and potential of open spaces. . . . The poets in this cycle all suggest that they are not cowed by the magnitude of the natural world. They are able to appreciate nature on its own terms" (xxix-xxx).
"Cycle Two, 'Nature, Be with Us,' continues on the path set by the previous cycle, illuminating alignments between the human and natural world. . . . Some of the alignments portrayed in Cycle Two are tight bonds, some very loose, and throughout the cycle there are growing threats of potentially irrevocable rifts" (xxx).
"Cycle Three, 'Dirt on Our Hands,' investigates sources of alienation from or betrayal by the land. The alienation is self-inflicted as much as it is created by external circumstances such as slavery, tenant farming, and population shifts away from rural landscapes. . . . As we progress through the cycle, the barriers that have been established between humans and the natural world grow more and more devastating, encouraging destruction and disaffection, discouraging cooperative thinking, and eventually ushering in certain trauma and death" (xxx).
"Poems in Cycle Four, 'Pests, People Too,' address power negotiations between humans, insects, and other troublesome creatures" (xxx).
"As the anthology progresses, the apparent complicity of the natural world in the difficult circumstances of the poems' subjects increases. . . . In [the poems] in Cycle Five ['Forsaken of the Earth'], the line between the harm humans do to one another and that delivered by environmental forces blurs. These poems implicate the natural world in a personal or collective history of trauma" (xxxi).
"Cycle Six, 'Disasters, Natural and Other,' continues in a similar vein, but culpability is more clearly drawn in this section than in the previous one. Whereas in the poems in Cycle Five the natural world might be marginally complicit in the harm done to African Americans, in the poems collected in Cycle Six the natural world is the direct cause of devastation. . . . Throughout this cycle, in an array of circumstances, natural forces of devastation overwhelm the speakers of these poems" (xxxi).
"Cycle Seven, 'Talk of the Animals,' contains a number of poems that look at the ways in which the animal world . . . operates separately from or in relationship to African Americans or humanity in general. The poems in this section situate humans in conversation with or about animals, illustrating ideas about intraspecies responsibilities, relationships, and responses. . . . The poems in Cycle Seven expand the // boundaries of our communities to remind us that we exist in relationship to communities and environments much larger than ourselves" (xxxii-xxxiii).
"The history of the land we spring from tells us much about ourselves, but for a community of people that has been continually displaced from or abused in the name of the land, these revelations are not always comforting. Poems in Cycle Eight, 'What the Land Remembers,' reveal the history stored in natural bodies. These poems echo much of the frustration and desperation illuminated in earlier cycles, and the poets here, writing primarily from the latter part of the twentieth century, do so with a well-developed historical consciousness" (xxxiii).
"As the twentieth century progressed, so did the freedoms of black Americans. . . . Cycle Nine, 'Growing Out of This Land,' is the only group of poems to include entirely contemporary texts, all published after 1970. . . . These poets' reflections on the positive and negative effects of the personal and collective cultivation of ecological spaces reveal a new mode of thinking and writing about human interactions with the environment" (xxxiii).
"Cycle Ten, 'Comes Always Spring,' is a reblossoming of the connections forged in the previous cycle. Though many of these poets evoke histories of violence, devastation, or death, they see their own potential reflected in the // world around them . . . . a variety of epiphanies of connections and regenerations . . . Despite the hardships visited upon African Americans and the natural world they live in, hope and potential for renewal, regeneration, and positive growth spring eternally" (xxxiii-xxxiv).

Reviews and notices of anthology

• Doaks, Celeste. "The Audacious Natural Word: A Review of Camille Dungy's 'Black Nature'." "Obsidian: Literature in the African Diaspora" 10.2 (2009): 240-43.
"Fearless. What comes to mind when we see this adjective? Brave. Unafraid. Courageous. Bold. Marching forward with heads up and eyes open. All of these can be used to describe the anthology 'Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry' edited by Camille Dungy. And fearless perfectly describes the attitude of this collection in addition to also being the title of the last poem in the book. . . . a book that is one of the most fearless, comprehensive and engaging collections of African American nature poetry and essays that this country has ever seen. This collection is gutsy because for years, MFA programs have canonized the nature poetry of White poets, while excluding, or conveniently overlooking depending on one's perspective, the nature poetry of Black poets" (240).
Doaks is full of praise for the anthology, but does raise two questions: first, she suggests that a chronological ordering of the poems, while potentially "boring," "could have provided a nice foundation to give a linear overview of where Black nature poetry has been and where it currently is as opposed to [the] cyclical approach [Dungy has chosen]" (242); secondly, Doaks wonders why "the majority of poets contained in this volume are contemporary poets. . . . It may appear to readers who scan the table of contents that more contemporary Black poets write nature poetry than poets born before the 1950s. If this is true what is the reasoning [i.e., cause?] for this trend and what does that say about the trajectory of Black nature poetry in general?" (243).
• Felstiner, John. "Orion Magazine" (n.d.) Web.
"Camille T. Dungy’s groundbreaking 'Black Nature' . . . generously exhibits the work of ninety-three black poets 'investigating the alignment between man and nature,' some rural, some urban, some recognizably celebrative and pastoral, others exposing 'an environment steeped in a legacy of violence, forced labor, torture, and death.' . . . Nature can darken in the face of American history."
"African-American poems, Dungy tells us, have not been brought into the conversation about poetry and human presence on our ravaged, resilient planet. This book will amend the absence. Readers may ask, How strong is this neglected poetry? The answer: as strong as American poetry overall — and maybe stronger, given the creative resistance evoked by African-American history, both long past and recent. . . . Since Bryant, Longfellow, Whitman, and Dickinson, the image of “nature poetry” has stayed traditionally white. This collection helps complete the picture, by including a people who were chained to work a foreign land and yet sustained a love for it."
• Hass, Robert. "Ecotone" Issue 13 (vol. 7, no. 2) (Spring 2012): 32-45.
Hass offers a rich contextualization of the prehistory for Dungy's anthology by recounting the major phases of African American experience with "the history of the American earth" (32). He notes, echoing Dungy, that although post-WWII African American experience has been largely urban, prior to the Great Migration, it was overwhelmingly rural. (The same is true, though less starkly, for the rest of American society before and after 20th-century urbanization) (32-33). Black urban life has been the focus of most African American literature since the Harlem Renaissance. But there is another strand--exemplified by writings by Sterling Brown, Zora Neale Hurston, and Jean Toomer--that attends to black rural life. Much of this experience on the land was realized only in the oral tradition and has left few traces in the literary tradition. Hass evokes the history of cultivation of sugar, tobacco, cotton, and rice and the phases of African American and American history bound up with the cultivation of these crops: "They account in many ways for the shape and the culture of the institution of slavery and of Southern life immediately after Emancipation, and so they are a way of organizing an imagination of those three hundred or so years when black labor transformed a large part of the continent and black workers knew, if anyone knew, the evolution of the American earth intimately and on a daily basis" (34). Hass offers a summary account of this history of sugar (34-36); tobacco (36-38) and "the story of the collapse of the tobacco market in the middle Atlantic states about the moment Thomas Jefferson left the presidency" (38-39); cotton (39-42); and rice cultivation (a practice known to enslaved persons brought from West Africa and imported into the American Low Country) (42-44).
"Most of the poems in Dungy's anthology, by my count about 80 percent of them, were written by poets of the last generation or two. Which is not surprising, and is perhaps as it should be" (44). "So for the most part this is an anthology of African-American poems written in the last fifty years. My impression from a first reading of it is that the relation of these poets, mostly raised in cities and suburbs, to the natural world is not very different from the relation to it of European or Asian or Latino American writers, except for the immensely powerful, largely silent weight of the previous 350 years of the African and African-American relation to the American earth. It's a silence and a story, or set of stories, about people, politics, markets, and the land and its life in which all Americans are implicated, and black Americans more intensely and intimately. . . . . Which is a way of saying that Camille Dungy has given all of us a gift. Almost the entire history of the earth as seen from the point of view of the people whose labor transformed it, is unrecorded" (45). This anthology gives voice to poets who grapple, in their different ways, with that silence.
• Mergen, Alexa. "Colorado Review" n.d. Web.
"As an Anglo-American who labels herself a naturalist and has taught environmental education, I’ve benefited physically and emotionally from unhampered access to nature across the country’s deserts, swamps, mountains, forests, fields, meadows and plains. After reading more than a hundred poems from African American writers [in Dungy's anthology], I see how shared—and how unique—experiences of nature are across temporal, geographical and social constructs of race."
The anthology is divided into ten sections and Mergen argues that, "The anthology’s organization detracts sometimes from the poems. The placement of the poems can feel forced and arbitrary, an attempt to categorize humans’ relationship and, consequently, the reader’s response to the works. Organizing the poems geographically might have made a meaningful reference for the reader. Settings in the poems range across the United States and pull from mid-Atlantic and Southern regions, areas that could benefit from greater understanding. . . . Like the florist selecting blossoms for her bouquet and arranging something pleasing, an anthologist operates from instinct and experience as she weighs her choices. These minor organizational quibbles with Black Nature show how affecting the anthology is. Black Nature cannot be dismissed. The range of classic poets (Dunbar, Wheatley, Giovanni, Toomer) with contemporary (Sean Hill, Afaa Michael Weaver, Toni Wynn), and the breadth of styles delights the reader and honors the richness of the American literary tradition. Undoubtedly, Black Nature will be used as a college text but it is much more than that: a collection of poems about nature, our place in nature and our response to nature, provocative, inspiring, and pleasing."
• Seaman, Donna. "Booklist" [date?]
"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. By creating an anthology of nature poetry by African American writers, poet and editor 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.' African American poets describe the need for practical knowledge of the wild to survive, the toil of working the land, and moments of spiritual communion with nature’s countless manifestations. Dungy provides an arresting introductory overview of 180 poems by 93 poets, and incisive essays accompany each thematic grouping. This analysis is dynamic and crucial, but the poems, beginning with Lucille Clifton’s 'the earth is a living thing,' are ravishing. Dungy’s unique, enlightening, and heart-opening anthology embraces George Moses Horton, who lived as a slave, and today’s award-winning Cyrus Cassells, haiku by Richard Wright, and poems funny, smart, sexy, devastating, and exquisite by Nikki Giovanni, Janice N. Harrington, Yusef Komunyakaa, Carl Phillips, and their many resounding peers, each expressing provocative perceptions of the great tide of existence."
• Vardaman, Wendy. "Verse Wisconsin" Issue 107 (n.d.) Web.
"The anthology is a dynamic, thorough, thoughtful collection of many things: American ecopoetry, African American poetry, African American nature poems, contemporary poetry in general. The poetry itself is by turns, and sometimes simultaneously, moving, horrifying, soothing, but the organizing principles of the anthology are just as interesting, surprising, and effective, and the space the collection opens up for understanding, for re-understanding and recovering, American nature poetry is wide and wonderful. Incorporating 180 poems from 93 poets, Dungy divides the book into ten “cycles,” or thematically chosen sections, eschewing the chronological arrangement that one might expect when an anthology mentions “four centuries” in its title. The cycles themselves feel organically chosen and arranged, and there’s overlap—sometimes you might think a poem in one section could have also gone in another one. (If you were reading this book with a class—and if you teach, you should—many sessions could be spent just continuing the conversations poems start with each other in each section and thinking about what they say together...) Rather than imposing a kind of classification-and-division scheme on the poets, historical, geographical, or otherwise, these sections arise from patterns within, from the conversations among, the poems, and Dungy explains some of her thinking on the individual sections in the insightful Introduction to the book."
"Taken together, these are marvelously varied, artful poems of wit and witness that require us to look not just at the sky, or the mountains, or the ocean, but at the people embedded within those scapes, as well as what they create there, good and bad, and the interaction of humans and environment."

Commentary on anthology

• Morris, Joan. "Black Nature Poets Find Their Voice in Oakland Woman's Anthology." "East Bay Times" 16 Jan. 2010 (updated 15 Aug. 2016). Web.
"Regan Huff, who worked with Dungy at the University of Georgia Press, says she was impressed by Dungy’s vision for the book as an argument. 'It’s a collection of poems with a real thesis about the relationship of African-American writing to the natural world,' Huff says, 'one that suggests that there are many facets of this relationship but that none of these dimensions has been a good fit for the existing models for "nature writing.“'"
"Alison Hawthorne Deming, a creative writing professor at the University of Arizona and author of the book 'Rope,' praised Dungy, saying that 'Black Nature' should be 'widely read, taught and talked about.' 'Dungy has compiled what might have taken a lifetime to assemble,' Deming wrote, '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.'"
Dungy: “I miss seeing writers of color in the conversation. Until we have greater variety in the conversation, it is not a conversation — it is a monologue.”
• Montagne, Renee. "'Black Nature': Poems of Promise and Survival." "Morning Edition" NPR 19 April 2010. Web.
"Dungy says people rarely think of black poets as writing in a genre [nature poetry] that brings to mind having the leisure--and time--to contemplate a field of flowers. 'The way that the tradition of nature poetry has taken off in America in particular is often about a pastoral landscape, a very idealized rural landscape, or a wilderness landscape in which people are involved . . . And black people have been typically working the land, and that's not part of the idyllic version of things. And then also the majority of African-Americans have tended to live in urban landscapes, and so there's a very different view, quite often, of the natural world.'"
• "Black Nature: A Symposium on the First Anthology of Nature Writing by African-American Poets." University of California, Berkeley. 5 March 2010. YouTube. Uploaded 19 March 2010. Web.
A discussion, hosted by C. S. Giscombe, Robert Hass, and Camille Dungy, and featuring the following panelists: Carolyn Finney, Harryette Mullen, Ed Robertson, Carl Phillips, Evie Shockley, and Al Young.
• Dungy, Camille T. "On 'Black Nature': African American Poets Reflect." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 760-62.
"History and culture almost immediately present complicating factors when we try to talk about Black poets in America. Almost immediately, words about our relationship to the wildness of the world are influenced by race. The writers whose work is collected in the following pages are fully aware of this reality. Each has asked what it means for a Black poet to write about nature. Each has asked what it means to be separate or inseparable from the natural world" (760).
"Evie Shockley, Remica Bingham, Amber Flora Thomas, Camille T. Dungy, and Janice Harrington, the poets represented in this special section, are also represented in 'Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry' (2009), edited by Camile T. Dungy. Their essays are derived from talks given at conferences or symposia during 2010 on panels convened to celebrate the first collection of nature poetry by African American poets. In an effort to continue the conversation begun by 'Black Nature,' each poet gathered here is represented by new poems not featured in the anthology" (760).
"Among the joys of collecting the work that would make up 'Black Nature' was the discovery of so many poems that take as their subject our 'natural experiences.' While I began the compilation of this anthology thinking this would be the definitive collection of such work, I sent the manuscript to the publisher hoping it would be a cornerstone, a text that would help lay a foundation for many more similar collections" (760).
"Given the history of race-related violence, geographic displacement, and de-humanization in this country, is it any wonder Black American poets' treatments of the natural world are often colored by skepticism and anxiety? In so much of our work there is no place for a peaceful walk through the woods. This is one of the reasons Black poets are so frequently excluded from the canon of nature poetry. And yet, Black poets are no stranger[s] to the beauty this world has to offer" (761).
"So long as the definition of 'nature poetry' aligns itself with a placid and pastoral tradition, the work of many of these writers will not be included. As we advance our view of what it means to interact with the natural world and include conversations about environmental justice, ecology, and historically-informed environmental practices, there will be more room for nature poetry that might be viewed as politically-charged, historically-based, culturally-engaged, and potentially antagonistic. These poems have been around all along, but we're only just now figuring out how to see them" (762).
• Shockley, Evie. "'Black Nature' / Human Nature." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 763-66.
"With 'Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry', Camille Dungy interrupted the narrative that had authorized and reinforced the white exclusionary practices and black self-imposed limitations behind the perception of 'blacks' and 'nature' as unrelated. The anthology derails arguments that African American poets don't write about 'nature' by highlighting a distinctive thread of poetry running through the African American tradition, from as far back as the late 1700s through the present, featuring oceans, mountains, forests, and fields. The work in this thoughtfully organized collection pushes us to recognize that poems that treat 'the natural world' in a less-than-celebratory manner are no less 'nature poetry' than poems that wax rhapsodic about nature's beauty and quiet peace. At the same time, the anthology participates in the movement by ecopoets and ecocritics toward an increasingly complicated understanding of what 'nature' signifies in the first place, by including poems that help us see the nature of the urban setting: trees planted in the sidewalks, birds landing as a flock upon the telephone wires, even // the roaches, but most significantly, perhaps, the millions of people who make up the city. For those of us either Writing About Nature While Black or generating scholarship on African American poets _as_ 'nature poets,' the 'Black Nature' anthology swept in like (dare I say it?) a breath of fresh air. I have been known to do both; thus, I am particularly grateful, as a poet and as a scholar, that the literary landscape now includes this text" (763-64).
• Bingham, Remica L. "Blessed Condemnation: Interconnection and Reverence in 'Black Nature'." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 770-72.
Bingham reflects on the variety of stances toward and experiences of nature that are articulated in the poems in "Black Nature." Her own poem "The Ritual of Season" recounts "the traditions we developed during my childhood in Phoenix, Arizona" (770), a setting that never felt like home to Bingham: "In some parts of the West, people of color [i.e., African Americans?] are still barely a whisper, so I was raised without natural landmarks that speak to so many Black poets in other parts of the country, no oaks or poplars, no freedom stairway or ocean mother telling me where I came from, who I might become. I had to hunt for everything, and I dug into the earth until it gave me something I could sift: a glimmer of familiar, a spark, a trail to uncover. 'The Ritual of Season' is a series of questions about whether we should take the natural world as friend or foe--no matter who sent it or how it binds us" (771).
• Thomas, Amber Flora. "Confessions of a Pseudo-Nature Writer." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 778-80.
• Dungy, Camille T. "Floriography, More or Less." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 784-86.
• Harrington, Janice N. "Carrion." "Callaloo" 34.3 (2011): 789-91.
• Moos, Kristi. "Attending to Our Nature: How We Write Us: Interview with Camille T. Dungy." "Poecology" issue 2 (2012). Web.
Dungy: "I edited 'Black Nature.' Much of the poetry in the anthology is about place; about either trying to claim place or being dislocated from it. When I think about my concepts of poetry that communicates with and about nature, it’s often really based on that: the idea of how we locate ourselves on the earth."
Moos: "Talk about your experience selecting work for inclusion in 'Black Nature' . . ."
Dungy: ". . . you were asking about 'Black Nature' and what I learned. The short answer is a lot. One example of many is that I learned that there was a difference in how writers wrote about the land after the 1970s from how they wrote about it before. It seemed clear that after the major advances of the Civil Rights and Black Power struggles that African American poets developed a different sort of relationship with the land. There was a greater ability to speak about land as if it were something that could “belong” to them. This is an over simplification because there are still plenty of other kinds of writing. Still, as I say in the introduction to 'Black Nature', “Cycle Nine, “Growing Out of The Land” is the only group of poems in the book to include entirely contemporary texts, all published after 1970…These poets’ reflections on the positive and negative effects of the personal and collective cultivation of ecological spaces reveal a new mode of thinking and writing about human interactions with the environment.” What I ended up with in that section was incredibly exciting work by writers like June Jordan, Janice N. Harrington, Richard Wright, Yusef Komunyakaa, C.S. Giscombe, Gerald Barrax, Sean Hill, Marilyn Nelson, and Audre Lorde. Sometimes the work was different from the work you usually see from these writers. Sometimes it simply appears different in the context of the work that surrounds it."
• de Leon, Aya, and Maurya Kerr. "Black Nature, Poetry, and Coexistence: Camille T. Dungy & Ross Gay, in conversation with Aya de Leon and Maurya Kerr. " Arts Research Center, UC Berkeley, 17 Nov. 2021. YouTube. Web.
• Sulak, Marcela. "Twelve Years of 'Black Nature': An Interview with Camille T. Dungy." "The Ilanot Review" Vol. 23 (Spring 2022). Web.
Sulak: "You saw 'Black Nature' as the first anthology of its kind . . .."
Dungy: "It's not just that I 'saw' this as the first anthology of its kind. It's that a comprehensive lit review proved that Black writers had been excluded from the canon of environmental poetry that existed at the time I compiled the collection. I spent months in two of the top libraries in the U.S. looking at nature poetry anthologies and many of the key environmental journals published up to 2005, and I found 6 poems by 5 Black poets. . . . That enormous lacuna was what 'Black Nature' addressed."
Dungy: "I am not sure I could have collected 'Black Nature' as easily today as I did when the book came to fruition. There are significantly more writers of color in the conversation around environmental entanglement and all that's connected with that idea. As Ecopoetics has risen to prominence, a way of thinking about nature writing that doesn't depend on the sublime and pristine, and that consciously and actively engages with issues of the anthropocene, there is a more fluid understanding of the ways that history, economics, politics, culture, and society reveal the realities of both the human and greater-than-human world. Therefore, poets who engage with questions of history, class, race/ethnicity, economics, social justice and more are far more likely to be understood also to be writing about 'nature.' When I collected 'Black Nature', such a capacious perspective was only just beginning to be normative, and so many of the poets in the collection had been overlooked because their work was consigned to one of the other subcategories, as if talking about history meant you couldn't also be talking about the environment (as an example)."
Sulak: "What inspired you to create this anthology?"
Dungy: "I saw this complicated and exciting interplay between the human experience (in all its many-faceted possibilities) and the greater-than-human world in so much Black American poetry, and it became imperative to me to share this vision. I contracted this book in Spring of 2006 and we published it in December 2009. That is an extraordinarily rapid time frame for a book of this size. But in a way, the book was easy to put together because the poems had been waiting to be called to speak in this way. The clarity and speed that accompanied the process of compiling this collection remains one of my most fulfilling writing/editing experiences. It's not that it was effortless. It's simply that the imperative of the work made it so that the path was clear from start to finish."
Dungy: "I am still sad I was not able to attain permission to include [Jay Wright's and Jayne Cortez's] work in the book. . . . there are about six poets from whom I was unable to gain permission to include their work for a variety of reasons. . . . As to poets who have come to my attention since the book's publication . . . I did start the collection thinking this would be the definitive collection. Like a capstone. But very soon I realized it is, in fact, a cornerstone. I understood from very early in the process that there would always be new writers doing this work. That was, in fact, part of the whole point. I wanted to empower new writers, current and future writers, to see themselves in the canon. And, also, to be willing to write themselves into the canon if some key part of their identity had been actively erased, as had been the case for the environmental poetry of Black Americans. To reframe the walls of the canon."
Sulak: "How has the publication of this anthology affected the way you see the natural world? How has it affected your own writing/teaching practice?"
Dungy: "Hmm. That is an interesting question to me. I think that I published 'Black Nature' because I didn't see the way I saw the world reflected in the conversation. So rather than changing the way I saw the world, I set about to change the conversation. Isn't that something that artists are always doing? Rather than shifting our own perspective, we ask those who view our work to shift theirs. And by shifting, to grow and expand. That said, I believe that the publication of 'Black Nature' and its subsequent and ongoing (generally) positive reception, has [sic] provided spaces for me that might not have existed. . . . I am proud of the ways that 'Black Nature' and my work on and around that anthology has [sic] helped to make a more inclusive space for so many writers in the world of poetry in general and environmental poetry specifically."
• "The Black Nature Conference: A Celebration of Camille Dungy's Book 'Black Nature.'" Dartmouth College, 10-11 May 2022. Featuring Terrance Hayes, Tiana Clark, Tyree Daye, Taylor Johnson, and Camille Dungy.
"Now, as on the date of its publication, Black Nature represents a major event in the field of African American literary studies, and operates in many ways as the one of the early signposts of what we might think of as a fairly recent—at least in the terms of its critical lexicon and explicit theoretical and aesthetic commitments—ecological turn in black studies more broadly.
It is a collection of poetry and prose that neither obscures the horrors of racist dehumanization, nor traffics in a too-neat sense of collective overcoming or inevitable jubilee. What Black Nature does instead is wrestle with the always already fraught character of certain encounters between black people and nonhuman beings, inviting us to admire the beauty of the open without ever losing ourselves in the notion that the human category has a kind of coherence or inclusiveness built in. For this reason and others, the celebration of Dungy's collection is both overdue and right on time.
The ten-year mark since its arrival provides us with a unique opportunity to reflect on its impact across a range of fields, as well as the larger environmental, social, and political resonances of its central questions in an era indelibly shaped by public spectacles of anti-black violence, and the ever-present threat of ecological catastrophe."

See also

• Roach, Jackson. "Interview: Camille Dungy." "Generation Anthropocene" 25 May 2017. Apple podcasts. 26 min.
• Parker, Airica. "Poetic Justice: Camille T. Dungy on Racism, Writing, and Radical Empathy." "The Sun" (magazine) (June 2018). Web.
• Miles, Kathryn. "Radical Communion: An Interview with Camille T. Dungy." "" 11 May 2022. Web.
Dungy: "The global majority has never been part of the idea-building or solution-building sector of the Euro-American environmental conversation. And that’s an issue if you’re talking about a global majority not being given the power of language to shape our ideas about what this planet is, whose planet this is, and how we steward this planet."
Miles: "It’s been 12 years since the publication of 'Black Nature,' which has been described as '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.' What, if anything, has changed since its release in 2009? What still really needs to change?"
Dungy: "I think a lot of things have changed, which is exciting. When I published the book, I had to do all of the literature research, and there just weren’t any Black voices, really voices of color at all, in the major literary journals and anthologies. They just weren’t there. And then within a few years, the next two major anthologies of environmental poetry had a lot of people of color in them, partially because of direct conversations I had with those editors and partially because of people reading Black Nature and seeing spaces and platforms for themselves or vacuums that they needed to fill. Many doors are open now that weren’t open at the beginning of the 21st century. That’s super, super exciting. "
• Dungy, Camille T. "Housekeeping Is Part of the Wild World Too." "The Atlantic" 26 Jan. 2023. Web.
"Some years ago I edited 'Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry'. One of the anthology's most remarkable statements was that Black people write with an empathetic eye toward the natural world. Because of erasures from so many narratives about the great outdoors, the idea that Black people can write out of a personal relationship to nature and have done so since before this nation's founding comes as a shock to many people. Conducting a review of more than 2,000 poems included in key nature-poetry anthologies and journals published from 1930 to 2006--80 years of the environmental literary canon--I found only six poems by Black poets. But that doesn't mean Black people weren't writing these poems. Like so many writers who wander out into nature to find themselves, Black writers also find peace in connections to nature. Just as strong as the pull of legacies of trauma that this nation inflicted--and inflicts--on Black people is the self-recognition some of us find in stories of hope and renewal that grow out of the wild world. 'Thank you,' one Black poet told me when I requested poems for 'Black Nature.' 'I have been writing this way my entire life, but no one has ever seem me in this light.'"
• Dungy was also associate editor of "Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade" (2006).

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