“I like to talk about things that are unseen, and often unwanted, and ‘bad.’ I think it’s about reclaiming things that have been used against us and taken away from us.”
A poet, memoirist and educator, at the time of the 1994 Conference, Toi Derricotte had written three books: The Empress of the Death House (1978); Natural Birth (1983); and Captivity (1989). Since then, she has authored a memoir, The Black Notebooks (1997), as well as the collections Tender (1997), The Undertaker’s Daughter (2011), and more recently I: New and Selected Poems (2019). Derricotte is the recipient of two fellowships from National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), two Pushcart Prizes, a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, a Folger Shakespeare Library Poetry Book Award, the Paterson Poetry Prize for Sustained Literary Achievement, and the PEN/Voelcker Award for Poetry. Derricotte’s work has been published in a number of journals, including Callaloo, The New Yorker, The Paris Review, New England Review, and American Poetry Review. In 1996, she co-founded the Cave Canem Foundation with Cornelius Eady to cultivate and highlight African-American poetry. In 2009, Derricotte was recognized as a Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania.
Toi Derricotte reads “Coming”
Molly Peacock in the Paris Review makes me come back to coming—the poem about whether she is faking it, and whether he really likes it with his head between her thighs. That wonder, and wondering if it is right to wonder if he is the one, the prince of your second coming, or if you too are just stuck there, his tongue on your clitoris like a block of dry ice. Oh silver skin of wondering! that bad taste in your mouth. The prince may be no more than an ordinary husband, the evolution of repressed desire wearing a gold ring. “What is love,” I ask a buddy over lunch, a survivor of marriage for forty years. “Well,” she waffles, “it depends…”
Toi Derricotte reads “Clitoris”
This time with your mouth on my clitoris, I will not think
he does not like the taste of me. I lift the purplish hood back
from the pale white berry. It stands alone on its thousand branches.
I lift the skin like the layers of taffeta of a lady’s skirt.
How shy the clitoris is, like a young girl
who must be coaxed by tenderness.