Women and Western American Literature

By Helen Winter Stauffer; Susan J. Rosowski | Go to book overview

A Laddered, Rain-bearing Rug:
Paula Gunn Allen's Poetry

Elaine Jahner

Poetry written by American Indians is beginning to gain the recognition it deserves. Much of it is superbly crafted art, remarkably free from the clever banality that characterizes too much of today's poetry. There is good reason for so much strong writing among American Indians. Within the tribal traditions that helped to shape the aesthetics of these poets, art is closely linked to survival. Vital oral traditions include prayers, songs, chants, tales and oral history that bind the artistic use of language to almost every aspect of daily living. American Indians can not take survival for granted, even today, and continuity is still dependent upon the community's artistic resources. The women seem especially aware of the fragilities in human experience; their writing is often painfully exhilarating in the way it shows life at high intensity.

There are many good American Indian women poets. Paula Gunn Allen, Roberta Hill, Wendy Rose, Linda Hogan, Joy Harjo, Leslie Silko, Marnie Walsh and Elizabeth Cook Lynn are only a few of the better known ones. 1 Studying one poet in depth is a good way to gain some basic understandings about how a traditional tribal heritage can be a source of insight to the meaning of contemporary America; such insight can help one read the other poets with enough awareness to find genuine pleasure in the experience. My choice of Paula Gunn Allen as an exemplary figure among American Indian poets is not entirely arbitrary. She has now been publishing poetry since 1963, so we possess a body of work from a mature artist. She has also published several critical essays which explain how she reads other poets and how she views the meaning of her Indian traditions.

Paula Gunn Allen was born in 1939 in Cubero, New Mexico,

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