Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda

Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda

Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda

Poet-Chief: The Native American Poetics of Walt Whitman and Pablo Neruda

Synopsis

A long overdue comparative study of the American voices in hemispheric poetry, this book brings cross-cultural and interdisciplinary considerations to the work of Whitman and Neruda. Nolan proposes American Indian poetics as the model for the poets' own poetics. Whitman and Neruda wrote from an Americanist perspective. Both developed an oral, tribal poetics and assumed shamanic voices and personae in their major works, 'Leaves of Grass' and 'Canto General'. The fresh reading of two major American poets helps to break through the partitions that separate the native, English and Spanish poetic responses to the American hemisphere.

Excerpt

The whole continent is
obsessed by the question:
what is it to be an American?

--Octavio Paz

Anthologies of North American poetry often begin on the sadly perfunctory note of including a selection of American Indian poems to preface a presentation of "the American tradition." Seldom is any attempt made to relate these translations of native oral literature to the poetry that follows. Those few pages are intended to represent, in its entirety, a dark, unknowable before, the millennia of "primitive" prehistory preceding the advance of European "civilization." In his popular anthology of the 1940s, Oscar Williams ventures further than most editors in explaining his introductory American Indian material: "I have included these translations because I am sure that the originals were important poetry and because it would be arrogant to call this book 'American' while omitting poetry that existed in America for long centuries before the short few hundred years of the white man's occupation." Williams insists, however, on the lack of any connection between native and later American forms, that "the peculiar handicap of American poetry has been that it has not had just this indigenous epic material as its foundation. Other major literatures can show organic growth from savage and barbaric folklore, warrior songs and ballads, common to a people long in their habitat." What North American poetry lacks, Williams implies, is an aboriginal Beowulf to serve as a bridge between . . .

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