Toi Derricotte

Toi Derricotte

“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.”

Toi Derricotte
Photo: C.B. Claiborne, 1994

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.

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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


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.