Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Vanishing Americans Just Keep On Writing

It gives me some satisfaction to think of those 19th century yappers (Manifest Destiny) (Vanishing Americans), and of Andrew Jackson (trail of tears), shock at the Native literature, books of tribal poetry and fiction, marvelously stacked here at my elbow.

First there is Gordon Henry Jr.'s intricate intellectual and beautifully grounded collection of poetry titled The Failure of Certain Charms. Salt Press. I read it all in a swoop. I loved River People -- The Lost Watch -- very powerful. Henry's poems are an edgey mixture of now, then, and no-time time. He has a steely sense of humor. "If Only Gregory Corso Was the Terra Cotta Horse on the Coffee Table with the Magazine Open to the You Can Be An Artist Ad". Where does that come from? An idiosyncratic human being (Chippewa) who loves his people, his family. We have to keep thinking, writing, seeing the world through our eyes, these poems tell us. We can't quit. We can't die. Our ancestors were tough and so we have to witness this world for them.

Yellow Medicine Review, Winter 2007 includes a extraordinary poem of memory by Janet McAdams. A grandfather works himself to the end, "and death opened its white mouth and breathed him in." Luke Warm Water opens an email file that informs him that his reservation hosts a terrorist cell. But it's a joke. Pauline Danforth writes of a Ojibwe life-ways and language camp, and the poignant moments there with children, She meditates on the distance between our ancestors and our lives now. One of my favorite lines in the book is from -- I am afraid of my own poetry, Sarah Agaton Howes "I am afraid the colonizers will Never Leave!/Shit! I am afraid they will leave and I won't know how/to clean a walleye" This issue of Yellow Medicine Review includes much, much more and is available at www.yellowmedicinereview.com

In preparation for entering Eric Gansworth territory I read his new book of poetry A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function. Syracuse University Press. Illustrated with extraordinary paintings, this volume of poetry sings the body complicated. (Thank god, here's really complicated Indian) There is a gentle, funny, brotherly observer in these poems who forgives us all -- I kept reading one after the other -- ah, forgiveness. Not that there is ever an outright absolution. By the way I am not a real critic, just a devoted reader. These poems are stirring, down-to-earth, and of course funny.

I have also got the companion volume to Genocide of the Mind. (These are both essential reading) Sovereign Bones, New Native American Writing, edited by Eric Gansworth. Nation Books. Here's a tiny clip from Old Stories From The New World, by Susan Power: "Do you know what it's like to be a sliver of the census pie in your own land, the numbers at the bottom of every statistical list if you're listed at all? This is what it's like to be Native when you're born in Chicago in 1961: you exist in the mirror, in your mother's face, you exist in the angry poems that drizzle from the clutch of your pen, all your words upon words upon words, your exhibit, your proof of life, shouting with ink -- we are here!"

Yeah, take that, DeSoto, Cortes, Custer, Jackson, Teddy Roosevelt, Ma from Little House on the Prairie,etc. etc.
We are here.

2 comments:

Holly said...

Isn't it sort of a big jump from DeSoto, Cortes, Custer, Jackson and Teddy Roosevelt to Ma from Little House on the Prairie?

JN said...

That's what a poet does, Holly, take wild leaps of imaginative faith, believing that if the mind can make it, the faithful reader can follow.