Camille Dungy Makes a List

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Posted 1.28.13 by RW Blogger

PW-funded poet Camille Dungy blogs about the daily life of writers and the role Poets & Writers' Readings/Workshops program plays in that life. Dungy is a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. She has published three collections of poetry—Smith Blue (Southern Illinois University Press), winner of the 2010 Crab Orchard Open Book Prize; Suck on the Marrow (Red Hen Press); and What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison (Red Hen Press).

Camille Dungy

1) The writer asks questions.

2) The writer answers those questions.

3) The writer elaborates on the answers. In other words, a writer doesn't just stick with ROYGBiV answers, but answers questions the way a bird can see colors, as in more completely, more complexly, more deeply than most humans can imagine.

4) The writer imagines.

5) The writer worries. Does anyone care? Does it matter? Is anyone out there? Can anyone see what I say I have seen? Does anyone care?

6) The writer asks a series of questions that override the worry for awhile. What, for instance, is it about writing, the writer asks, that would cause a group of young people in Mozambique, a nation devastated by decades of war and until recently listed as one of the 10 poorest in the world, to found Revista Líteratas, a blog dedicated to discussing the vibrancy of Afro-Lusophone literature? The writer won't rest until she can begin to understand what is it about the literature that keeps the writer going back to the page, even if the page is written in something as foreign as Portuguese.

7) The writer works toward penning answers to those questions. This is what the writer might call the spreading of truth. This is what the world might call translation.

8) The writer elaborates, wondering how the time she spends writing her own poems or translating others' can honor the time writers in organizations like California Poets in the Schools spend teaching second grade students, and high school students, and hospital-bound children, and children moving through the juvenile correction system, and students moving past the juvenile correction system, and junior high school students, and first graders how to learn to love poetry. The writer could go on and on about the importance of expanding people's access to literature.

9) The writer worries that the questions she is asking have been asked already or that the answers, those particular answers the writer spent so much time elaborately imagining in tones far beyond red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and even violet, have been written already by someone who is better at writing than the writer believes herself to be. The writer also imagines that the answers she has taken such care elaborating upon will reveal Poets & Writers' secrets and will, she half worries, trigger the release of some agent who will set out hot on her tail. Will the agent laugh at the writer's tail?

10) The writer asks what on heaven's earth is the relationship between a tail and a trail and a tale and when the words diverged or converged, if ever they did either; and how to most colorfully get this cacophony of ideas down on the page without confusing the reader, if there is a reader out there to confuse; and if these are questions worth spending time writing about...

That's what writers do all day.

Go ask a writer.

Photo: Camille Dungy.  Photo credit: Marcia Wilson/Wide Vision Photography.

Major support for Readings/Workshops in California is provided by The James Irvine Foundation. Additional support comes from the Friends of Poets & Writers.