The Nature of Native American Poetry

The Nature of Native American Poetry

The Nature of Native American Poetry

The Nature of Native American Poetry

Synopsis

The beginning of the twenty-first century marks the maturation of the voices of indigenous poets in the United States. Norma Wilson's appealing and accessible collection of essays is both an introduction to and an enthusiastic celebration of the poetic vistas inhabited by modern Native American writers. Wilson's scope is both broad and specific as she draws from contemporary criticism, tribal histories and folklore, interviews with writers, and, of course, from the poetry itself. Her study is firmly grounded in the oral traditions and personal and tribal histories of the eight poets on whom she focuses. At the same time, Wilson's broad understanding of the literary heritage of East, West, and First nations allows her to place Native American poetry in global and historical context. Wilson points out Native American writers have been influenced by such well known Western 'canon' poets as Blake, Whitman, and Ginsberg. Her study further elucidates the clear mark that Native American literature, culture, and oral-poetic traditions have left on five centuries of British and American literature. This is a guidebook mapping the modern rhythms of our ancient literary landscape.

Excerpt

Contemporary Native poetry has its roots in the land, in the oral tradition, and in history. The older stories, songs, and chants that shaped the indigenous perceptions of life are reimagined, so that when Native poets evoke traditional literature, they are continuing in the oral tradition, drawing from cultural memory the words and images that have sustained their people and sharing parts of their cultural identities. Native references to traditional oral literature and to the land are more than literary allusions — they embody life and spirit, a vision of the sacred.

This vision sometimes emerges from the most seemingly commonplace experiences, such as eating a tasteless piece of fruit. Maurice Kenny 's poem "Wild Strawberry," from his collection Between Two Rivers, is a prime example. These "woody strawberries / grown on the backs of Mexican farmers" are "without color or sweetness" (On Second Thought 70). But Kenny's reflection on picking berries with his mother when he was a child lets us understand the taste and meaning of that fruit sacred to the Seneca. Sacred, not only because of their flavor and succulence, but because of the place where they grew, the hands picking them, and the experience of gathering and eating them. With his Strawberry Press, Kenny nourished a generation of Native poets, such as Lance Henson and Wendy Rose. Greyhounding This America tells his story.

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