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Gillespie, Carmen

Gillespie, Carmen


Carmen Gillespie is a professor of English and director and founder of the Griot Institute for Africana Studies at Bucknell University. In addition to scholarly articles and poem publications, she is author of the literary critical works, A Critical Companion to Toni Morrison (2007), A Critical Companion to Alice Walker (2011), and the editor of Toni Morrison: Forty Years in the Clearing (2012). Carmen has published a poetry chapbook, Lining the Rails (2008) and three poetry collections, Jonestown: A Vexation, which won the 2011 Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize; The Blue Black Wet of Wood (2016), the winner of Two Sylvia’s Wilder Series Poetry Prize, and The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif (2017), winner of the 2016 Stillhouse Press Prize for Poetry. The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif was a nominee for the 2018 Library of Virginia Poetry Award. Carmen’s awards include an Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist Fellowship for Excellence in Poetry and grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Mellon Foundation, the Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, and has served as a Fulbright scholar. Essence magazine named Carmen one of its 40 favorite poets.

full virginia power—1900

I remember the hour.

Each morning the hour
before sun burned full
Virginia power, before it rose
to its arrogant flower, from
the pen, the eggs from the hen.

When the skillet was hot,
I would empty the lot
into black iron.

The smell aroused him.
Eggs recall the hard white
shell of his unvarying

I broke the yolks
and started the grits,
He would go upstairs while
I stirred in honey and pears.


beside the creek,
my legs cut through
the grasses like machetes.
Laughing, they slashed
my skin with an epithet.

There, the sun was outweighed
by crickets and shades.
My place in the dark,
stark and forgotten, shelter
sharp and marked by heat
always unrelenting.

I remember the hour,
remember the hour,
after sun burned full
Virginia power, after it rose
to its arrogant flower—

its arrogant flower.

the inconstant moon

“Officer Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights by unjustly shooting him in the back five times as he was running away from a traffic stop.”  AP News

“I could stand in the Middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose any voters.”  Donald J. Trump, 45th President of the United States

We are living for the histories of the moon,
of the man in the moon,
and of the men in the moon shots
shots, shot, shot
their shots leaving orbit to eviscerate
backs, black flesh running away
backs black and red
back then and now,
backing into the moment(s)—in or out—
inn a room with no room for them, no
sanctuary of petals, no orchid yelling in curves
trying to remind us of the fundamental
female of life
and of the innocence of water,
its walls weeping
with structures that exist only
in the space of what is missing,
shifts of the moon
and what might have been—

we shoot into is
and stroke its shot
through the heart of what was

the blue black wet of wood


Today’s rain is blue, a blue of skeletons and the underside of ashes.

My footsteps pool in azure and the sea seeps through

    in waves that remember the determined descent

    of drowning slaves.  The slog of night mosses my fingers

    as if remembering the ribs of trees and, somewhere,

    a song repeats in threes calling little girls back home

    from wherever obsidian away they may have roamed.

But the distance outlines an edge where a house may have stood

And, oh, but the night and the blue black wet of wood.

The Ghosts of Monticello: A Recitatif (Stillhouse Press, 2017)
The Blue Black Wet of Wood
(Two Sylvias Press, 2016) 
Jonestown: A Vexation
(Broadside/Lotus Press, 2011)
Lining the Rails (Puddinghouse Press, 2008) [chapbook]

Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Prize
Two Sylvia’s Wilder Series Poetry Prize
Stillhouse Poetry Prize
Ohio Arts Council Individual Artist
Nominee, Library of Virginia Poetry Award
Grant, Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference
Fellowship for Excellence in Poetry
Fellowship, Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown