I hear tell that listening to some folks talk about going to Cave Canem can get as boring as listening to angels talk about heaven.
I know. Everybody gets it: “You finally found a community where, simultaneously, it’s okay not to be obviously black in your writing (whatever the hell that means) and it’s okay to be obviously black in your writing (whatever the hell that means). For a few days out of a lifetime, you’re treated like an entire human being by extraordinarily talented people, sharing meals and workshops and tears with poets you’ve loved for most of your life. Yipee.”
Well, those of us sick of the love-fest are going to have to find another blog to read today. (Some of us already changed the channel as soon as we saw the word, “black.” Scary asses.)
I first attended the Cave Canem workshop when I was 24 years old. (I know; to look at me you’d think that was just last year.) And while there, I became convinced that there is no shame in loving all the poetry I love.
I also met a woman whose writing continues to floor me, to make me rethink my every revision, to question all my ways of being.
Dawn Lundy Martin earned an M.A. in creative writing from San Francisco State University and a Ph.D. in English from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. Her full-length collection, A Gathering of Matter / A Matter of Gathering (University of Georgia Press, 2007), was selected by Carl Phillips for the Cave Canem Poetry Prize. Her second collection, Discipline, won the 2009 Nightboat Books Poetry Prize, chosen by Fanny Howe. She is also the author of three chapbooks, including The Morning Hour (2003), which was selected by C.D. Wright for the Poetry Society of America's National Chapbook Fellowship.
In 2004, she co-edited The Fire This Time: Young Activists and the New Feminism (Anchor Books, 2004), a collection of essays on activism in America. She is co-founder of the Third Wave Foundation, a national grant making organization led by young women and transgender youth. She is also a founding member of the Black Took Collective, a group of experimental black poets. She is currently an assistant professor in the Writing Program at the University of Pittsburgh.
I met Dawn one Cave Canem summer in a workshop where she, through her comments and poems and hardedged honesty, changed the way I read and see. I still think of her as one of the smartest people I’ve encountered in my life, so I thought I’d share with you some of the questions I’ve wanted to ask her for some time. In memory of my CC sister Phebus Etienne, with gratitude for every Friday ever that anybody got dressed up just to go somewhere sweaty and shake her or his booty, here’s a talk I had with Dawn Lundy Martin: