Camille T. Dungy
Advice from the award-winning author
Published: Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Updated: Wednesday, October 3, 2012 01:10
The award-winning poet Camille T. Dungy will be giving a reading at CU Denver on Oct. 3. She has written three books and was an editor for two collections.
“Poetry requires patience and dedication,” Dungy said. She said that you can’t just sit back and wait for inspiration to strike; you have to practice your craft in the mean time. Dungy compares being a poet to being an athlete, pointing out that an athlete prepares and practices day after day in order to do the best he or she can. “So we’re like that as writers too. We have to do exercises. We have to read work that challenges us. We have to try to do those things and then often fail,” Dungy said.
She has practiced her craft to the point that much of it has become unconscious, but earlier in her career her decisions were much more conscious. Dungy said about her book, “I started writing poems about both of my grandfathers and I thought, wait a minute, I have to pay attention to the women. I can’t just write about the men. And so I had to actively think about what ways I should focus on the women.”
When Dungy was writing her second book the shift came unconsciously. She started out writing poems about women and history, but eventually her poems took a different track. “If poems need to be written, I write them,” Dungy said. This was when she wrote “The Unwritten Letters Of Joseph Freeman.” “I realized that these men have some really important things to say and I needed to see where they led and eventually, as that happened, I realized that I had a different path than I thought I was taking.”
Dungy has covered three centuries in three books. “I say that each of my books is a survival guide. Suck On The Marrow is the 19th century, and What To Eat, What To Drink, What To Leave For Poison is the 20th century, and as it turns out, Smith Blue is like a survival guide for the early 21st century,” Dungy said.
“I’m asking the same questions: how to live and love and make the best of our world in the challenges of our time and those challenges are environmental devastation, ongoing international conflicts for which we are partly responsible, if not largely responsible.”
Dungy’s advice to aspiring poets and authors is that they should read. It is important to study the masters and know what’s out there so “you’re not unknowingly giving a mediocre version of what’s been done before, you’re actively, knowingly trying to do something different,” Dungy said. “You cannot be a good writer if you are not a good reader.”
Camille T. Dungy will be appearing at Tivoli Suite 640, October 3, 6:30 p.m.