New Anthology Of Native Nations Poetry

“There are many of us and we’re not just poets. We’re teachers. We’re dancers. Essentially, we’re human beings. And you would think that at this time we would not have to say that. But we still are in the position, strangely enough, that we still have to remind people and the public that: We’re still here, we’re still active. We have active, living cultures and we are human beings and we write poetry.”

Joy Harjo, NPR Interview

When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry is a remarkable book because of the power of its words, because of its scope (160 poets from 100 indigenous nations), and because it exists at all.

Publisher’s Description

“This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing from Pulitzer Prize–winner N. Scott Momaday, the book contains powerful introductions from contributing editors who represent the five geographically organized sections. Each section begins with a poem from traditional oral literatures and closes with emerging poets, ranging from Eleazar, a seventeenth-century Native student at Harvard, to Jake Skeets, a young Diné poet born in 1991, and including renowned writers such as Luci Tapahanso, Natalie Diaz, Layli Long Soldier, and Ray Young Bear. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through offers the extraordinary sweep of Native literature, without which no study of American poetry is complete.”

Anthology’s Introduction

Executive editor Joy Harjo’s (Mvskoke/Creek) introduction grounds us and prepares us for the great circle of words of power we will take through the book’s five sections: Northwest and Midwest; Plains and Mountains; Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Pacific Islands; Southwest and West; and Southeast. Each of these regions begins with a descriptive preface, and the work of each poet includes a mini-biography.

The focus, intent, and power of this work are aptly summarized by Harjo’s opening lines: “We begin with the land. We emerge from the earth of our mother, and our bodies will be returned to earth. We are the land. We cannot own it, no matter any proclamation by paper state. We are literally the land, a planet. Our spirits inhabit this place. We are not the only ones. We are creatures of this place with each other. It is poetry that holds the songs of becoming, of change, of dreaming, and it is poetry we turn to when we travel those places of transformation, like birth, coming of age, marriage, accomplishments, and death. We sing our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren: our human experience in time, into and through existence.”

Harjo notes that while the United States has been here only a few hundred years, “Indigenous peoples have been here for thousands upon thousands of years and we are still here.” Yet unknown to most people, an afterthought to others, and long presumed to be illiterate by most; there never was a level playing field once the outsiders arrived, and so because of all of this, it’s remarkable that this anthology has been lovingly compiled out of the subdued light into our national consciousness. Let’s hope the powerful work it represents remains there.

The Poems

The wonders of four centuries of poetry cannot be adequately summarized or displayed here, much less explicated. So here are a few brief excerpts that caught my attention:

From the Northeast and Midwest

  • EMILY PAULINE JOHNSON (TEKAHIONWAKE) (1861–1913), Mohawk, “Marshlands”

Hushed lie the sedges, and the vapours creep,
Thick, grey and humid, while the marshes sleep.

  • OLIVIA WARD BUSH-BANKS (1869–1944), Montaukett, “On the Long Island Indian

But there came a paler nation
Noted for their skill and might,
They aroused the Red Man’s hatred,
Robbed him of his native right.

Now remains a scattered remnant
On these shores they find no home,
Here and there in weary exile,
They are forced through their life to roam.

From the Plains and Mountains

  • ZITKÁLA-ŠÁ (GERTRUDE SIMMONS BONNIN) (1876–1938), Dakota, “The Red Man’s America”

My country! ’tis to thee,
Sweet land of Liberty,
My pleas I bring.
Land where OUR fathers died,
Whose offspring are denied
The Franchise given wide,
Hark, while I sing.

  • N. SCOTT MOMADAY (1934–), Kiowa, “The Gourd Dancer”

A vagrant heat hangs on the dark river,
And shadows turn like smoke. An owl ascends
Among the branches, clattering, remote
Within its motion, intricate with age.

From the Pacific Northwest, Alaska, and Pacific Islands

  • MARY TALLMOUNTAIN (1918–1994), Koyukon, “There Is No Word For Goodbye”

Sokoya, I said, looking through
the net of wrinkles into
wise black pools
of her eyes.

What do you say in Athabascan
when you leave each other?
What is the word
for goodbye?

A shade of feeling rippled
the wind-tanned skin.
Ah, nothing, she said,
watching the river flash.

She looked at me close.
We just say, Tłaa. That means,
See you.
We never leave each other.
When does your mouth
say goodbye to your heart?

She touched me light
as a bluebell.
You forget when you leave us;
you’re so small then.
We don’t use that word.

We always think you’re coming back,
but if you don’t,
we’ll see you some place else.
You understand.
There is no word for goodbye.

  • FRED BIGJIM (1941–), Iñupiaq, “Spirit Moves”

Sometimes I feel you around me,
Primal creeping, misty stillness.
Watching, waiting, dancing.
You scare me.

From the Southwest and West

  • PAULA GUNN ALLEN (1939–2008), Laguna, “Laguna Ladies Luncheon”

     on my fortieth birthday
Gramma says it’s so depressing—
all those Indian women,
their children never to be born
and they didn’t know they’d been sterilized.
See, the docs didn’t want them
bothered, them being so poor and all,
at least that’s what is said.
Sorrow fills the curve of our breasts,
the hollows behind the bone.

  • EMERSON BLACKHORSE MITCHELL (1945–), Diné, “Miracle Hill”

I stand upon my miracle hill,
Wondering of the yonder distance,
Thinking, When will I reach there?

I stand upon my miracle hill.
The wind whispers in my ear.
I hear the songs of old ones.

From the Southeast

  • JOHN GUNTER LIPE (1844–1862), Cherokee, “To Miss Vic”

My spirit is lonely and weary,
I long for the beautiful streets.
The world is so chilly and dreary,
And bleeding and torn are my feet.

  • RUTH MARGARET MUSKRAT BRONSON (1897–1982), Cherokee, “Sentenced”

They have come, they have come,
Out of the unknown they have come;
Out of the great sea they have come;
Dazzling and conquering the white man has come
To make this land his home.

We must die, we must die,
The white man has sentenced we must die,
Without great forests we must die,
Broken and conquered the red man must die,
He cannot claim his own.

The editors of this anthology read each poem aloud, better to understand, hear them, savor them, and drink them into themselves like a rare elixir. Should time permit–and why would it not?–you will do the same.

Malcolm

Book Bits: book tariffs, ‘Sorcery of Thorns,’ horror novels, Joy Harjo, Smoky Zeidel, Good Omens

This column of books, authors, and publishing links used to run frequently on this blog until I began shifting most of the links to my author’s page on Facebook. Maybe I shouldn’t have done that. So, for old time’s sake and/or a change of pace, here (after a long absence) is a page of links for readers, writers, and publishers.

Tariffs have been in the news lately, so I’ve included a link to one that affects books (item 1). Readers of this blog probably know that Joy Harjo is one of my favorite poets. I’m pleased to see her new recognition of her talents. (item 4).

  1. News: The Book Industry Speaks Out Against China Tariffs, by Jim Milliot – “Five members of the book publishing and bookselling industry appeared Tuesday at hearings being conducted by the U.S. Trade Representative over the Trump administration’s proposal to impose a 25% tariff on $300 billion of goods imported from China, including books. The representatives at the public hearing emphasized a number of reasons why books should be excluded from the tariffs, arguing that because publishers and booksellers operate on thin margins, the imposition of tariffs would almost certainly lead to higher book prices for consumers and could force some bookstores and publishers out of business.” (Publishers Weekly)
  2. Review: Sorcery of Thorns, by Margaret Rogerson, June 2019, fantasy 14 and up – “An apprentice librarian faces a magical threat against a Great Library…An enthralling adventure replete with spellbinding characters, a slow-burning love story, and a world worth staying lost in.” (Kirkus)
  3. Lists: Terrify Yourself with These Ten Horror Novels, by Brian Evenson – “Short stories tend to be scarier than novels: their tightness of focus allows them to do away with pesky things like backstory and character development and elaborate setting and offer a blazing unity of effect. A novel’s scare is more a creeping dread, a tension that builds slowly and inexorably and leaves you deeply unsettled even after the book is finished. For me, the most frightening books are not about scary clowns or demons or witchcraft, but those that show the awful things humans are capable of doing to one another.” (The Millions)
  4. Harjo – Wikipedia Photo

    News: Joy Harjo Becomes The First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, by Lynn Heary and Patrick Jarenwattananon – “Poet, writer and musician Joy Harjo — a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation — often draws on Native American stories, languages and myths. But she says that she’s not self-consciously trying to bring that material into her work. If anything, it’s the other way around.” (NPR) See Harjo’s website here.

  5. How To: 7 Things to Look Out for While Proofreading, by Lauren M. Bailey – “Each stage in the editing process improves a manuscript and requires an acute attention to detail. But even if you’ve written the most brilliant prose and meticulously researched your book, readers will dismiss the work as sloppy, amateur, and unprofessional if it’s riddled with typos. Frustratingly, these types of mistakes are often the hardest to catch in our own work. Our brains are so busy with the higher-order tasks in writing that our eyes literally see what they want to see. Though proofreading errors are difficult to spot, once you know what to look for—and have some handy tricks for uncovering them—you’ll be amazed (and probably slightly horrified) at what you can catch.” (Kirkus)
  6. New EditionsSmoky Zeidel’s poetry collections (Garden Metamorphosis and Sometimes I Think I Am Like Water) are now available in hardcover editions. (Thomas-Jacob Publishing)
  7. Film: Bestselling Novel by French-Moroccan Leila Slimani To Hit the Big Screen, by Teresa Kerr – “Rabat – The Perfect Nanny, a bestselling novel by French-Moroccan Leila Slimani is making its way to the big screen, thanks to three production companies: Legendary, Why Not Productions, and Pan-Européenne.” (Morocco World News)
  8. Quotation: “We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled. The trick is, knowing how to tip ourselves over and let the beautiful stuff out.” –  Ray Bradbury
  9. News: Thousands petition Netflix to cancel Amazon Prime’s Good Omens, by Alison Flood – “More than 20,000 Christians have signed a petition calling for the cancellation of Good Omens, the television series adapted from Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s 1990 fantasy novel – unfortunately addressing their petition to Netflix when the series is made by Amazon Prime.” (The Guardian)
  10. Obituary: Uighur author dies following detention in Chinese ‘re-education’ camp, by Alison Flood – “The death of the prominent Uighur writer Nurmuhammad Tohti after being held in one of Xinjiang’s internment camps has been condemned as a tragic loss by human rights organisations.” (The Guardian)

Book Bits is compiled sooner or later by Malcolm R. Campbell, author of Conjure Woman’s Cat.

National Poetry Month: Harjo Wins Jackson Poetry Prize

“New York, NY – April 25, 2019 – Joy Harjo has won the 2019 Jackson Poetry Prize. The prize, endowed by John and Susan Jackson, is awarded annually by Poets & Writers to an American poet of exceptional talent who deserves wider recognition. It carries a significant monetary award, increased this year to $65,000, and aims to provide what poets need: time and encouragement to write.”

Source: JOY HARJO WINS JACKSON POETRY PRIZE | Poets & Writers

Best of news. Of course, I’m biased. She’s one of my favorite current poets, mentioned here earlier this month

–Malcolm

National Poetry Month: ‘She Had Some Horses’

This month I would like to mention several collections of poetry that speak to me. Let’s begin with Joy Harjo’s 1983 collection She Had Some Horses with its powerful title poem of the same name. Harjo’s poems are wind, rain, earth, fire, and spirit. Read them when you have time to meditation upon the pure, non-human and essential wildness of the natural world at its most basic and primitive level. This book is a good first step.

“I discovered “She Had Some Horses” while preparing for the poetry class I teach at an elementary school in San Francisco. Harjo’s poems ache with grit, grief and nature. They feel like that moment of insomnia when twilight breaks. Her lines are curt and heavy but they construct delicate stories. I thought She Had Some Horses would be perfect for kids this young, whose imaginations are still lush and wild. To them, horses are still spirited creatures, not farm workers.” – Julie Morse in The Rumpus

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She has written seven books of award winning poetry. She also writes and performs original music, available on five CDs

In her introductory remarks to the 1997 edition, Harjo writes, “I do not know how to explain the horses, how to tell you about the genesis of the poems, or the poem “She had some horses.” I am asked often about these poems, to elaborate the process, the history, the mythic sense, the horses, I have changed as much as these poems through the years. Nothing ever stays the same, whether it be poems or humans. When I look back over the many lines between then and now I remember a very young woman with a typewriter, entering the field of imagination with a great trust, even wildness. And there were the horses shimmering in the sun and rain on the battlefield of gains and losses, always revealing the possibility of love.”

For the current 2008 paperback edition introduction, she says, “Horses, like the rest of us, can transform and be transformed. A horse could be a streak of sunrise, a body of sand, a moment of ecstasy. A horse could be all of this at the same time. Or a horse might be nothing at all but the imagination of the wind. Or a herd of horses galloping from one song to the next could become a book of poetry.”

The horse is my totem animal. Perhaps he nudged me into this book. Or maybe it was the wind or the gods. You will find your way into this marvel if the universe wills it. If so, you will never leave. Every time you walk from page to page you will be changed. That’s the nature of the words you’ll find here.

–Malcolm

 

 

The many worlds of fiction are calling you away

“I know I walk in and out of several worlds each day.” – Joy Harjo

I won’t try to second guess what Harjo, winner of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize, meant exactly when she mentioned several worlds. If you’ve read her 1983 book She Had Some Horses, you might suspect–as I do–that her “several worlds” are more than figurative. The title poem, which I can never read often enough, says the horses are sand, are maps, contain ocean water, are the sky’s air, fur and teeth, breakable clay, and splintered from a cliff. Throughout the poem, those horses are everything else.

Nothing figurative there. I see it as real because when I’m there, reading, I’m in that world, and she did not say, like sand, like maps, like fur and teeth, etc. When you read and when you are where the words take you, you are no longer in your safe bed or your easy chair or at your desk. You are in a place where “She had horses with eyes of trains.”

NASA Photo

If you write, you are where the words have taken you, perhaps with Joy Harjo, in a place where “She had horses who licked razor blades.” The typewriter, yellow tablet, or PC slip away, and now you see the bright cold day where the clocks were striking thirteen, where the screaming comes across the sky, where there was a dark and stormy night where the rain was falling in torrents, where Mrs. Dalloway bought flowers for herself, or where stars are living and dying.

If you read and/or write, it is hard not to talk in and out of several worlds each day. The words conjure you there. Those words are your quantum entanglement, placing you simultaneously at one place and another place, and the place with the strongest attraction is where you attention is, often more within the book than your safe bed or easy chair. Perhaps the call of sleep, the ringing of a phone, another person entering the room, or a thunderstorm will draw you away from the horses “who whispered in the dark, who were afraid to speak.”

That sudden change of worlds can be like dying or being born. It’s often wrenching like being pulled suddenly out of weep water or stepping into a fire. Sometimes the worlds blur the way dreams and waking moments tangle together at dawn. Sometimes you’re sure you safe bad is made of sand, is a map, contains ocean water, is fur and teeth, breakable clay, and a splintered sliver from a red cliff. Worlds can tangle for readers, writers, dreamers, and anyone else with an free-ranging imagination.

You become a shaman when you read or write. To the logical observer, you appear to be a man or woman reading in bed or a man or woman writing a book at his or her computer. They can’t quite see that you are the sky’s air and the ocean’s water.

Malcolm

Malcolm R. Campbell is the author of the magical realism novels “Conjure Woman’s Cat” and “Eulalie and Washerwoman.”