Reading the Voice: Native American Oral Poetry on the Page

Reading the Voice: Native American Oral Poetry on the Page

Reading the Voice: Native American Oral Poetry on the Page

Reading the Voice: Native American Oral Poetry on the Page

Synopsis

"This is a book about poetry: about its sacred underpinnings, its broad presence in everyday life, and its necessity to the human community. Reading the Voice examines poetry's abiding importance among Native Americans from ancient times to the present. It also seeks connections between an ancient tribal way of making and diffusing poetry and more recent print-oriented or electronic means. Drawing on years of experience with Seneca and Navajo singers and storytellers, Paul Zoibrod offers an introductory framework for appreciating what can be called America's first literature and for reevaluating the Western literary heritage. He states, "I consider this work a tentative first step in reconciling mainstream America with the deep poetic roots of an unwritten aboriginal past, and perhaps even with the deeper European roots of its own poetic traditions." To do so effectively, however, readers must first reexamine assumptions about what poetry and literature really are. Those who come to Native American "literature" in print must do so conscious of the dynamic sounds of speech and song by "reading the voice," instead of merely looking at a silent sheet of paper full of alphabetical symbols. By doing otherwise we stand to miss much that is essential to the verbal art of indigenous peoples whom print cultures approach from an alien perspective." Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved

Excerpt

This is a book about poetry: about its sacred underpinnings, its broad presence in everyday life, its necessity to the human community -- all of which go largely unnoticed as the printed word and literature move insidiously away from wide public view. More topically, this book is about poetry's abiding importance among Native Americans from ancient times to the present -- going back long before Europe's alphabetical technology transformed much of this continent's poetry and song from the unamplified, unrecorded product of the speaking or singing voice into something inscribed silently on paper. This volume seeks connections between an ancient tribal way of making and diffusing poetry and more up-to-date, print-oriented or electronic ways.

I make no pretense at completing the task I begin here. Instead I consider this work a tentative first step in reconciling mainstream America with the deep poetic roots of an unwritten aboriginal past, perhaps even with the deeper European roots of its own ancient poetic traditions. Maybe the time has come to try placing Native American poetry in such a perspective. I merely wish to propose one possible way of doing so.

As attention to the "literature" of Native Americans mounts, that term requires reexamination, as does its sister term "poetry." Otherwise we stand to miss much that is essential to the verbal art of the people once carelessly called "Indians," and to that of other indigenous peoples whom print cultures approach from an alien perspective. Also overlooked might be an alternative way of appreciating our own poetry and the long traditions it too essentially bears, especially as electronic media begin to supplant ordinary print. Or, to put the matter more simply, by redefining the . . .

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