Camille Guthrie’s Poem “Diamonds” Goes Viral
Photo credit: Osorio Arts
In Camille Guthrie’s most recently published poem “Diamonds,” characters range from Judith Butler to Hamlet’s Queen Gertrude to Guthrie’s own children. The characters meet together in a poem described by the author as the “intersection of my thoughts.” The poem was published by the Boston Review on April 8th, 2018, and it circulated the web rapidly and widely.
Guthrie traces the early beginnings of the poem to a period between the years 2000 and 2005; she was teaching Hamlet to her students in Friends Seminary, a Quaker school in Manhattan. She had read Shakespeare before, but now, the author felt obliged to be immersed thoroughly in every line of the piece.
“Because my students were such rigorous readers and thinkers, I had to know every single line and metaphor,” Guthrie recalls.
Even back then, she knew someday she would want to write about Hamlet, but the ways she reads, interprets, and connects to the piece has changed over the years.
“When you think about a piece of literature for so many years, the characters become present to you--like companions --and Hamlet is one of those texts that teaches you in different stages of your life.”
In "Diamonds," Guthrie directly connects Hamlet’s characters to her personal life. She writes:
I think I’m stuck in Hamlet
in the role of Queen Gertrude
Later in the poem, Guthrie refers to her daughter as “little Ophelia.”
“I used to be preoccupied with Hamlet and Ophelia,” Guthrie says, “but now that I'm middle-aged, I think more about Queen Gertrude and the decisions she makes. We look to art to know how to live. There are lessons to be examined from philosophers, fictional characters, and singer-songwriter divas; there's no separation for me.”
The poem came from constant intersections of these characters in her thoughts, and her desire to talk about it through poetry. “Poems have a way to appear in your mind in that way,” Guthrie explains. The constant, deep, presence these characters had in her mind made them come to life. In her poem, the characters are constantly interrupting one another, much like in Guthrie’s daily thoughts.
“The poem represents any day I experience--of course, transformed and heightened by poetry. In any one day, I'm parenting, teaching Butler or Foucault, working with students, thinking about the literature I love, and listening to music.”
The appearance of Bennington students in the poem did not go unnoticed. One student, who preferred to go unnamed, admitted that “Camille’s poem made me want to quit smoking… or at least hide from her when I have a cigarette!” Another student, who also preferred to go unnamed, confessed to feeling flattered by making an appearance in the poem. “I always smoke outside Crossett, so it’s totally possible she wrote about my friend group. I felt important, but also self-aware.”
Guthrie, the Director of Writing Initiatives at Bennington and a beloved member of the Visiting Faculty, speaks fondly of her students, describing them as perceptive and intelligent and very meaningful to her. She includes them in her poem as another approach to talk about experimenting with one’s identity.
“Judith Butler writes that gender is not stable--it is ‘an identity instituted through a stylized repetition of acts.’ So all those things we do on a daily basis--the way we dress, talk, move, interact--create a gendered self. College can be an opportunity to question how one has constructed an identity, thus far, and to envision the possibilities,” says Guthrie.
The questioning of one’s identity can be particularly pressing in the college years, according to Guthrie. Yet the questions remain as time goes by.
“Diamonds” gives us a glimpse into the author’s mind. Teaching Judith Butler in a college classroom is not separate from folding laundry at home, or from the music her kids listen to, or from the intimate thoughts a middle-aged woman might have. These are all intertwined with one another, existing in the same waves of thought.