Po-Comm: Cave Canem


i am facebook friends with cave canem–and they had some interesting posts today. for those who don’t know, cave canem is “committed to the discovery and cultivation of new voices in African American poetry.”

from their website:


In 1996 poets and teachers Toi Derricotte and Cornelius Eady began a weeklong summer workshop/retreat designed to counter the under-representation and isolation of African American poets in writers’ workshops and literary programs. From the beginning, Cave Canem has offered a safe haven for black poets—whether schooled in MFA programs or poetry slams—to come together to work on their craft and engage others in critical debate.

Beginning as an all-volunteer effort in 1996, Cave Canem has moved swiftly to become a non-profit organization with a full-time staff and an active Board, funded through individual donations and foundation and government grants.

Our program has expanded from a summer retreat to include regional workshops, a first book prize, annual anthologies, readings and events in major cities around the United States. We are a national community of emerging and established poets, a family of writers who create, publish, perform, teach, study poetry, and support each others’ work.

ABOUT THE NAME When Toi Derricotte shared her dream of a retreat for African American poets with Cornelius Eady and his wife Sarah Micklem, they agreed to work together to make it a reality. In Pompeii, Italy, they found a fitting symbol for the safe space they hoped to create: the mosaic of a dog guarding the entry to the House of the Tragic Poet, with the inscription CAVE CANEM (Beware of the Dog). It symbolized for them the role that Cave Canem could play: it would protect the poets and, by breaking the chain, it would unleash these vital new voices into the literary world.


so what caught my eye today was a video interview with toi derricotte. watch here, and listen for how many times she uses the word ‘community’:


while cave canem does have BOOK PRIZES, i first learned about them through their retreat:

(from website):

Cave Canem’s week-long retreat is held annually at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg, in Greensburg, Pennsylvania. Adult African American poets are invited to apply. Once accepted, poets become “fellows” and are encouraged to attend three retreats within a five-year period.

Retreat residencies offer an unparalleled opportunity to study with a world-class faculty and join a community of peers. Some fellows hail from the spoken word tradition, others focus on the text. Some are formalists, others are at the cutting edge of experimentation. All are united by a common purpose to improve their craft and find safe space “where black poets, individually and collectively, can inspire and be inspired by others, relieved of any obligation to explain or defend their blackness.” (Harryette Mullen)

Tuition is free. Participants are asked to pay a $500 room-and-board fee. Once accepted, they may request financial assistance; limited aid is available on a first-come, first-served basis.

2009 Program

Dates: June 21 — 28

Faculty (Confirmed as of May 3, 2009): Toi Derricotte, Cornelius Eady, Thomas Sayers Ellis, Angela Jackson, Colleen J. McElroy and Ed Roberson.

Guest Poet: Natasha Trethewey


as you can see, it is quite competitive & does require money for room and board (i’m not sure how much application costs).

another program they have is their regional workshop, which was also announced today:

Writing in Received Form: Owning the Masters, taught by Marilyn Nelson in NYC.
Free application. Free admission.

Description of Workshop:

This workshop is designed for experienced poets who wish to pursue alternatives to free verse by employing a contemporary approach to traditional prosody. Our emphasis will be on discovering the flexible nature of iambic meter, with some attention paid to non-iambic meters, methods of using rhyme and slant-rhyme, and new understandings of the concept of rhyme—all with the goal of owning the tradition and making it new. We will discuss poems by poets in the traditional English language canon and those by contemporary English language poets who have invented new ways of interpreting the tradition, at once honoring and subverting it. Participants will be encouraged sometimes to “follow the letter of the law,” sometimes to “push the enve-
lope” of traditional form. There will be writing exercises both inside and outside of class, and participants will be expected to bring a new poem to the workshop every week.


African American adults not enrolled full-time in degree granting programs. Priority will be given to residents of New York City’s five boroughs and individuals who have participated in fewer than three Cave Canemworkshops. Participants are expected to attend all eight sessions. Enrollment is limited to 15.



2 thoughts on “Po-Comm: Cave Canem

  1. The spirit of Cave Canem is fantastic! It is all about inclusivity and the work. A new Latino/a Retreat called Cantomundo will announce itself on a website in a few weeks, which also will encourage both emerging and established poets. The first retreat is scheduled for the fall of 2010. Cantomundo! Cantomundo! Cantomundo!

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