The Crabapple’s Body is a Fountain


Camille Dungy

Poet Camille Dungy answers a question after reading a poem April 7 at Mount Mercy.

I’m not a big fan of poetry. Sure, I like the occasional Billy Collins creation.

But, much of the literary poetry my junior high and high school teachers sent my way didn’t move me or speak to me. Maybe it was due to 8th grade, where a nun was a bit too fond of Joyce Kilmer. I think I will never see a poem that stinks so much like “Trees.” Too bad Kilmer hadn’t been a Protestant—then Sister Rose would have probably stayed away from him.

Well, it’s not Kilmer’s fault his lines didn’t exactly awaken any poetic sense in me. I suppose poetry is a bit like food—different people have a taste for different kinds.

Camille Dungy

Camille Dungy, answering a student's question about why she became a poet: "I just like to hear myself." Seems like an answer an active blogger can understand.

Then again, in my formative teen and young adult years, the great poets of society were busy writing popular tunes. But, sadly, a serious lyric shortage (did OPEC ration vowels, too?) hit during the disco era which tarnished the poets’ works during the late 1970s. Consider, for example, this epitome of verse from 1979:

“Gonna have some lovin’
Got to have a love tonight
I need hot stuff, hot love
Lookin’ for hot love

Hot, hot, hot, hot stuff
Hot, hot, hot
Hot, hot, hot, hot stuff”

OK, that was cruel (to be kind). Anybody from anywhere near my generation now has a persistent Donna Summers earworm going.

So, with a personal history like that, poetry was not my thing, my bag, my hobby or shtick. When differential equations persuaded me that engineering would not be in my future, and maternal genes suggested writing might be, I went totally prose, man.

Like Sgt. Friday on Dragnet. Just the facts, ma’m.

Dungy smiles

Poet Camille Dungy in a lighter moment during her April 7 reading at MMU.

I was pleasantly surprised by poet Camille Dungy, who read tonight at Mount Mercy University. I enjoyed her poetry, partly because it was all about “real” topics, but also partly because it was artful.

Like Kilmer, Dungy wrote about trees. But her springtime poem, almost guaranteed to appeal to a guy who calls his blog “Crgardenjoe,” had interesting comparisons and imagery about plants. She personified different trees, and had them thinking pretty lewd thoughts, which seems appropriate, when you think about what flowers actually are.

I’m not great at quoting, so I hope I’m not messing the line up, but she described one tree’s spring attitude: “The crabapple acts like her body is a fountain.” Dungy, in the poem, urges her reader to “drink” in spring, “drink from the poplar’s grail.”

Pretty heady stuff, and it beats “Trees” upside the head and down again.

She had me with spring. Then the lady got into African-American history, reading poems with characters like a 19th century freeman kidnapped back into slavery or a slave girl shutting herself in a crate to be shipped north.

I was a history major as an undergraduate and, while not a historian, always enjoy interesting tales from the great human narrative. I think Camille nailed it when she said “in history, we find the now.”

Well, it was an interesting evening. My “to read” list is taking some interesting twists this semester. I’m almost done with “This Flowing Towards Me” and have a second MMU reading program book waiting on my nightstand. But what next?

Poetry? Poetry that is not by Billy Collins? Yeah. Maybe I should read that.

Camille Dungy

Poet Camille Dungy. She moved from California to Iowa as a teen, but is a professor in California now.

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “The Crabapple’s Body is a Fountain

  1. Cate Sheller

    Joe, you have forgotten your own epic work from the disco era – “Can you trot, can you prance, shake the stuff in yo’ pants?”
    It’s taken me awhile to appreciate poetry as well, but I am getting there. I think it really helps to hear the poet read – or have poetry read aloud by somebody who’s good at it, in general – it brings life to the words. Then again, I don’t know how you would save “Trees.”

  2. crgardenjoe

    Yes, yes, my youthful lyrics display little poetic talent. You save trees by planting them were deer can’t reach them, but you can’t save “Trees.”

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