Niki Herd's poems in this issue



When I came to Cave Canem, the summer of 2005, I didnŐt know what to expect

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God's Graffiti: Cave Canem 1996—2008

By Niki Herd


Since 1996 Cave Canem has been the major intellectual and creative support system for hundreds of black poets writing in the US. Cave Canem poets have published with important black presses, such as Third World Press and Lotus Press, as well as within mainstream venues, secured Stegner fellowships, Whiting awards, and other notable recognition in the field. The annual summer retreat and the regional workshops are taught by renowned poets who foster poetic inquiry with an exacting attention to form. Few organizations, if any, give black poets the opportunity to listen to Rita Dove discuss the formal aspects of a poem into the wee hours of the morning or intimately watch Ntozake Shange perform from For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide When The Rainbow Is Enuf. Cave Canem poets are perhaps some of the most broadly trained poets writing and teaching today, with many well versed in the black poetic tradition as well as British literature, Caribbean and Asian poetic traditions, and the classics.


Often I have wondered what future generations of poets will say about this particular time of black artistic production that co-exists in an environment in which writing programs, academic or otherwise, are none too far. What I hope comes across, or what makes Cave Canem unique among most, is not simply the visible difference that Cave Canem poets have made to broaden the field of American poetry, but the sense of fellowship each poet has to his peers regardless of one's poetic style—formal, experimental, spoken word, or other. Like those who formed writing communities during the Harlem Renaissance or the Black Arts Movement, Cave Canem exists because so many black poets are still unable to find sufficient artistic and intellectual support within and outside of academia. As Harryette Mullen writes, Cave Canem is a “productive space where black poets, individually and collectively, can inspire and be inspired by others, relieved of any obligation to explain or defend their blackness.” Personally, Cave Canem has bestowed upon me a sense of literary ownership that no writing program could have instilled. The ability to write a poem, attend to craft, and the seriousness with which I approach the genre could not have come from anything other than Cave Canem, given the nature of race relations in this country—historically and today. This is the particular lens from which I write, and of course there are other points of entry as varied and valid as the poets and the poems presented in this issue of The Drunken Boat. Cave Canem, and the vision set forth by its founders, Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady, as well as Carolyn and Sarah Micklem, has meant so much to so many—because of them our voices become the meter of a sonnet, fists in the air, the cadence of good ole' soul, or as Lauren K. Alleyne writes, perhaps we are simply “[g]od's graffiti, the text of us scrawled  / wild, twisted into this renegade, complex sentence” called life—Ashe.

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Niki Herd has been published in forums such as Just Like A Girl: A Manifesta!, From the Web: A Global Anthology of Women's Political Poetry, The Ringing Ear: Black Poets Lean South, Autumnal: A Collection of Elegies on compact disc, Kalliope, PMS: poemmemoirstory, 10x10.8, Xcp: Streetnotes Biannual Electronic Exhibition Space, and Black Issues Book Review. She has served on the board of Kore Press, an independent feminist publisher and was nominated for a Pushcart Award. Currently a Cave Canem Fellow, she was recently a finalist for the 2007 Astraea Emerging Lesbian Writer Award from the Astraea Lesbian Foundation for Social Justice.