Why I Chose Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair for the Rumpus Poetry Book Club


Rumpus Poetry Book Club Board Member Camille Dungy discusses why she chose Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair for January’s Rumpus Poetry Book Club.


To introduce her author note, Camille Guthrie quotes Louise Bourgeois, the artist at the center of her book. “You can stand anything,” says Bourgeois, “if you write it down. My complaint about language is that it is perfect, indispensable, but not enough. It doesn’t say everything.” Indeed, language does not, cannot, say everything. Too often in ekphrastic and biographically-based poetry, the poet tries to say everything, to tell us all there is to tell about an artist’s life and work. Rather than standing as independent works of art, such poems come to resemble the dullest of obituaries. They might contain elaborate descriptions of a thing, but the descriptions are not the least bit vivid. Too often, these dense poems end up not giving me “enough.” I have no such complaint about Camille Guthrie’s Articulated Lair: Poems for Louise Bourgeois.

One of the things I admire most about Articulated Lair is that Guthrie does not require her poems to tell us all there is to know about Bourgeois or her oeuvre. She does not ask language to say everything. In fact, Guthrie seems to revel in gaps and silences, the nuances occasioned by what cannot or will not be directly articulated. Guthrie creates poetry within these gaps. She builds her poems around them. She emboldens my ear as it “imagines/ the tenor of the unsaid” (Cell IV), and she guides me as I begin to perceive Bourgeois in a new light.

These poems are not traps, but safe spaces with doors inside them. Just the way Bourgeois liked her lairs. Their very construction reveals what we need to know. Guthrie’s poems are simultaneously airy (due in part to the relatively short lines and the abundance of white space) and steely (due to the multi-dimensional heft of the words Guthrie employs). The opening lines of the poem Fillette begin thus: “Reality I want/ not rigid like a grid/ and not limp, but / accurate as the entrails of a rabbit/ mischievous as a monkey coat.” In Articulated Lair: Poems for Louise Bourgeois, Guthrie has created a new reality which manages to express both Bourgeois’ vision and her own. As Thomas Sayers Ellis says in the jacket copy, “Articulated Lair is wiser and wider than a retrospective.” These poems have more legs than one of Bourgeois’ spiders and, too, they are a marvel to behold.

Camille T. Dungy is the author of the essay collection Guidebook to Relative Strangers: Journeys into Race, Motherhood, and History (W. W. Norton, 2017), a finalist for the National Book Critics Circle Award, and four collections of poetry, most recently Trophic Cascade (Wesleyan UP, 2017). She edited Black Nature: Four Centuries of African American Nature Poetry (UGA, 2009), co-edited the From the Fishouse poetry anthology (Persea, 2009), and served as assistant editor on Gathering Ground: Celebrating Cave Canem's First Decade (University of Michigan Press, 2006). She is the poetry editor for Orion magazine. Dungy's work has appeared in Best American Poetry, 100 Best African American Poems, Best American Essays, Best American Travel Essays, the Pushcart Anthology and more than 30 other anthologies, plus dozens of print and online venues including Poetry, American Poetry Review, VQR, Literary Hub, Paris Review, and Poets.org. Her honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, an American Book Award, a Colorado Book Award, two Northern California Book Awards, two NAACP Image Award Nominations, and fellowships from the NEA in both poetry and prose. She lives in Colorado with her husband and daughter (and down the street from her parents, who followed her this time around). Dungy is a University Distinguished Professor at Colorado State University. More from this author →