Poet digs deep with prestigious award

Professor Camille Dungy, a poet and essayist in CSU’s Department of English, recently received a Guggenheim Fellowship, one of the nation’s most prestigious awards for scientists, creative scholars, and artists.

The competitive award supports work that adds to the “educational, literary, artistic, and scientific power of this country,” according to the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. Dungy is the fifth CSU professor and the second CSU writer to become a fellow. She is using funding for a writing project called “Soil,” an exploration into an accelerating environmental crisis and sociocultural issues.

In another recent honor, the New York Times Magazine invited Dungy to write a poem for its landmark “1619” project, which examines the legacy of slavery and racism in America. Dungy’s poem, titled “On Brevity,” was published in September and responds to a 1963 church bombing that killed four black girls in Birmingham, Alabama.

The poem below is from her collection Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan University Press, 2017).

Now that you have a child, has your writing practice changed?

Digging rock from hardscaped beds, I think,
is a bit like not writing poetry—like thinking
about writing poetry but digging rock from my backyard
instead. If you’ve never pulled rock, with your own
gloved hands, or a trowel, with a flat-headed shovel,
on your knees, or squatting, or half bending so
your back will hurt by nightfall, never learned how
best to corral the rugged little stones so you might
scoop them and haul them to a container that will bear them
away, turn them into some other fool’s problem, or if you have
and your fingers remember like mine remember a day’s work
that wore holes into sweet, pink, flowered, garden gloves—
though when I called it quits after laboring more hours
than I labored with my daughter, it seemed
I’d hardly cleared any rock at all—you might wonder
why, when my shovel came down on a pyramid
of knob-sized grey and white and speckled stones
near the struggling young juniper and opened
a nest of lice-small cream eggs and writhing red and black
bodies I checked first that these were not termites—
my mercy limited by my love for the wood and mortar
I call home—then replaced the river stones
on the teeming anthill and turned to clear rock
from some other section of my hardscaped bed.

Camile Dungy, Professor of English, College of Liberal Arts, Colorado State University