Why I Chose Bear, Diamonds and Crane

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Rumpus Poetry Club Board Member Camille T. Dungy on why she chose Claire Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s Bear, Diamonds and Crane as the October selection of The Rumpus Poetry Book Club:

Out of the deepest
wound, a new bloom, black ink on
beige flower petals.

“The Gift of Inheritance”

The long and the short of it: That’s why I chose Bear, Diamonds and Crane.

I appreciate the moments of distillation in Kageyama-Ramakrishnan’s latest book.[1]  The poems tell stories of displacement and connection.  They reach deep into history but feel very much of the now.  They tell incredibly personal stories, but they reveal the communal connections between her own experiences and so many others’.[2] There are poems about war between nations, between neighbors, within families, within the self. There are poems in which women fight their own bodies, using food, drugs, denial to protest the realities of their own flesh.[3] There are haiku, and lists, and fat chunky columns of text over two pages long.[4]  Kageyama-Ramakrishnan moves from the misty world of poetic nuance to the direct confrontation of dramatic narrative and just as quickly back again.[5]  The constant disorientation and reorientation is part of the wonder of this book. [6] Out of her deepest wounds, poems.[7]

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[1] I also like the way she’s not afraid to stretch into ideas, and how she lingers on one loss for a while, as if she knows that the totality of loss can’t be confined to one meditation.

[2] I am particularly interested in the ways that Kageyama-Ramakrishnan made the disclosure of Japanese, Japanese-American, and Indian cultural histories part of the fabric of her poems.  The texture of so many of the pieces depends on descriptions of lives fully lived. The cultural and historical details I’ve just mentioned are as much a part of the descriptions of these lives as are her sensory details: her colors, her tastes, her sounds.

[3] Then there are the poems of desperate desire to hold onto the body.  Poems that confront the terrible consequences of a body fighting itself.

[4] It is as if the poems are formally working against the confines of the body.  As if they are warring with themselves and each other to decide what sort of body would best hold the poet/spirit.

[5] Frequently, her thoughts seem to overflow beyond the confines of the poems.  The notes section of Bear, Diamonds and Crane grows into an integral part of the book.  In reading it, I sense even more the enormity of history and emotion Kageyama-Ramakrishnan is tackling in these poems.

[6] That connotative pun was not originally intended, but I will keep it now that it is written because it seems of a piece with the concerns of this book.

[7] We who read the poems experience both direct and indirect reenactments of the processes by which she came to bear these wounds.

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Camille T. Dungy is author of Smith Blue; Suck on the Marrow; and What to Eat, What to Drink, What to Leave for Poison. She is also editor of Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry, co-editor of From the Fishouse: An Anthology of Poems that Sing, Rhyme, Resound, Syncopate, Alliterate, and Just Plain Sound Great, and assistant editor of Gathering Ground: A Reader Celebrating Cave Canem’s First Decade. Dungy has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Virginia Commission for the Arts, Cave Canem, the Dana Award, and Bread Loaf, is the winner of the 2011 American Book Award, a two-time recipient of the Northern California Book Award, and silver medal winner in the 2011 California Book Award. A two-time NAACP Image Award nominee, she has been shortlisted for the 2011 Foreword Magazine Book of the Year Award, the 2011 Balcones Poetry Prize, the PEN Center USA 2007 Literary Award, and the Library of Virginia 2007 Literary Award. Dungy is currently a professor in the Creative Writing Department at San Francisco State University. Her poems and essays have been published widely in anthologies and print and online journals. http://www.camilledungy.com/ More from this author →