Bowdoin Reads

Matt O’Donnell, Associate Editor, Bowdoin Magazine, is reading...

Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry
by Camille T. Dungy

Really, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m in awe of this collection. Its ambition and scope doesn’t surprise me, since I’ve known the brilliant whirlwind Camille Dungy for many years, but still, I’m amazed at what she’s accomplished here. This is an important book—there’s nothing else like it that collects and focuses on the nature writing of African American poets. It’s the third anthology that Camille has edited or co-edited, and her experience is evident in how well the collection is put together, how the poets and the poems are arranged to speak to one another as well as to the reader. I found many familiar names in “Black Nature”—including Bowdoin Writer in Residence Anthony Walton, as well as four other poets who’ve read at Bowdoin recently, Evie Shockley, Ross Gay, Gregory Pardlo, and Camille herself—but it’s been exciting for me to discover new poems by those poets, in addition to so many fantastic poets whose work I should probably have already known, and many more that Camille brings to light from past (going back to the 1700s!) and current generations. I spend a lot of time outdoors and a lot of time with poetry, and this mix is especially appealing to me. But more than that, as a white guy from Maine, how I view nature and my experiences in it in my daily life differs in many ways from how the African American poets assembled here experience the natural world in their lives, so it fascinates me to read and learn about those differences, as well as to find shared experiences. Subject matter aside, Camille’s also simply picked wonderful poems, so this book is just a great read, whether you meander from the beginning, hop through it, or choose poets, poems, pages randomly. I’m looking forward to continuing my walk through this book this summer; I know I’ll keep going back to it for many, many seasons to come. For a much better description of “Black Nature” than I can put together, listen to this excellent interview with Camille by Renee Montagne on NPR’s “All Things Considered.”

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