vocalisms is a regular feature that presents selected tracks from Voca, the Poetry Center's online audiovisual archive of more than 800 recorded readings, spanning from 1963 to today.
“This is what happens to poets, right?” Camille Dungy says as this track opens. “We read these little nuggets of scientific information, and then we feel like we have to write poems about them.” In Dungy’s masterful lines, a “nugget” from a BBC news report on the high risk of extinction to animals without backbones becomes a personal defense of those backbone-less creatures. Dungy makes her defense through the music of names: She lists the “damselfly, water skeet, mollusk, / the caterpillar, the beetle, the spider, the ant,” and, my personal favorite, “the moon jelly.” She invites us to feel the motion of currents and breezes, to connect with these creatures who, like any of us who live by our emails, “filter and filter and filter all day.” Facts pervade the poem, but subtly. “Characteristics of Life,” and Dungy’s reflective reading of it, beautifully conveys the connections between all of us living beings.