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2011 Northern California Book Awards - Poetry - Winner


NCBR review of Suck on the Marrow by Camille Dungy


Red Hen Press


Suck on the Marrow's subject, the lives of U.S. slaves between 1831–1850, is potentially fraught with poisonous emotion. Yet Dungy approaches it with lyric, narrative poetry that channels the unwritten, unspoken, unexpressed daily lives—not of ciphers, caricatures, shorthand archetypes, or sentimental portraits—but of real women and men. The language is deeply her own, and at the same time collective on an experiential level, "she marked the failing of a sick buck when it died / then stowed her traveling dress beneath the carcass / in three days she'd made a stench skirt / to slow the hounds." Dungy disappears into the work, allowing the imagined past to speak, not in justification or condemnation, but lived as present time. Dungy's art imposes no interpretation, but trusts that the reader comes laden already, so the past needs no intercessor, only a clear voice. Her language is direct, beautiful, internal in the way unselfconscious thoughts are, and as poet she never allows herself the conceit of "speaking for." Suck on the Marrow is ambitious, complex, unflinching, and ultimately welcoming, so that the ugliness, the pain and suffering that can't be avoided in this history can actually be experienced fully by a reader who is not being called to war, but as witness to human experience.


About the NCBR: NCBR/Northern California Book Reviewers, a volunteer group of book reviewers, book review editors, and others who read passionately and write about reading, have met regularly since 1981 to celebrate books by presenting annual book awards to northern California authors. See the 2011 NCBA page under PF Programs for the complete list of finalists and winners.

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