Poetry Unleashed - Cave Canem's 10th Anniversary by Rondall Brasher
My awakening was Cave Canem's 10th Anniversary celebration held in New York City. For those of you who not familiar with this haven of Black poetry, I encourage you to discover and support their endeavors http://www.cavecanempoets.org.
Cave Canem was instituted in 1996 by fellow teachers/poets Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady. As long time writers, they were acutely aware of the isolation and lack of cultural support structures for Black poets in formal or informal education programs. They sought to create a space for Black poets to learn, debate, grow, and challenge themselves in order to challenge their craft. What began as an annual summer retreat has evolved into a non-profit organization with a full-time staff.
From the Publisher
To mark the first decade of this pathbreaking project, Gathering Ground presents more than one hundred poems by Cave Canem participants and faculty. It embraces an impressive and eclectic gathering of forms, including sonnets, a bop (a new form created by a Cave Canem faculty member), blues, sestinas, prose poems, centos, free verse, and more. The roster of distinguished contributors includes Lucille Clifton, Yusef Komunyakaa, Marilyn Nelson, Sonya Sanchez, Al Young, and many others.
For newcomers and aficionados alike, Gathering Ground assembles in one place the most innovative voices in contemporary African American poetry and boldly attests to the important position it holds in verse-making today.
Toi Derricotte is author of the memoir The Black Notebooks and of four books of poetry: Tender, Captivity, Natural Birth, and The Empress of the Death House. She is Professor of English at the University of Pittsburgh. Cornelius Eady is the author of Brutal Imagination, Autobiography of a Jukebox, You Don't Miss Your Water, The Gathering of My Name, and Victims of the Latest Dance Craze. He is Associate Professor of English at the University of NotreDame.
The road to get to this 10th anniversary has been long and arduous but they made it. They are continuing to build an infrastructure that will take Cave Canem into the future. Cave Canem now has an active Board (with some very impressive and notable names in modern poetry). Its funding comes through individual donations along with foundation and government grants.
Their concept is more communal than revolutionary. The people who have participated in the Cave Canem fellowship program are asked to give back through volunteering, through donations of both money and their time.
The most important aspect of all of this is the profound effect of being around such incredibly artistic minds. Poets have come away from the experience of their workshops and pursued MFA programs in literature and poetry. Others have come away with the confidence to give back to their communities through activism and conducting their own poetry workshops. Even more come out of the program with the confidence to publish works of poetry they have long worked on.
The continued existence of Cave Canem serves as a pinnacle of what can be done with a shared and committed love of Black art and the determination to cultivate it. In turn, I have decided to do a series of book reviews of poets who are a part of Cave Canem. After attending their readings, I came away in awe and inspired. Some of these poets are new to me, as they will be to you, hence I am looking forward to the newly discovered works of art.
The following comes from their website:
ABOUT THE NAME
When Toi Derricotte shared her dream of a retreat for African American poets with Cornelius Eady and his wife Sarah Micklem, they agreed to work together to make it a reality. In Pompeii, Italy, they found a fitting symbol for the safe space they hoped to create: the mosaic of a dog guarding the entry to the House of the Tragic Poet, with the inscription CAVE CANEM (Beware of the Dog). It symbolized for them the role that Cave Canem could play: it would protect the poets and, by breaking the chain, it would unleash these vital new voices into the literary world.
Cornelius Eady - Howard Gotfryd
Toi Derricotte - Ted Rosenberg