Native American Poetry: Traditional Heritage

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      Native American has written some fine poetry, most likely because a tradition of shamanistic which song plays a vital role in their cultural heritage. Their work excels in vivid, living evocations of the natural world. At times, what became almost mystical. Indian poets also voice a tragic sense of irrevocable loss of their rich heritage. Simon Ortiz an Acoma Pueblo, bases many of his hard-hitting poems on history, exploring the contradictions of being an indigenous American in the United States today. His poetry challenges Anglo-American readers because it often reminds them of the injustice and violence at one time done to the Native Americans. His poems envision racial harmony based on a deepened understanding.

      In star Quilt, Roberta Hill Whiteman, a member of the Oneida treble, imagines a multi-cultural future like a “star quilt, sewn from dawn light,” while Leslie Marimon Silko, who is part Laguna pueblo, uses colloquial language and traditional stories to fashion haunting, lyrical poems. In “In Cold Storm Light” (1981), Silko achieves a haiku-like resonance. Louise Erdrich, like Silko, also a novelist, creates powerful dramatic monologues that work like compressed dramas. They unsparingly depict unemployment, and poverty on the Chippewa reservation. In “Family Reunion” (1984), a drunken, abusive uncle returns from years in the city. As he suffers from a heart disease, the abused niece, who is the speaker, remembers how this uncle had killed a large turtle years before by stuffing it with a firecracker. The end of the poem links Uncle Ray with the turtle he has victimized.

      The contemporary black Americans have produced many poems of great beauty and considerable range of themes and tones. It is the most developed ethnic writing in America and is extremely diverse. Amiri Baraka (1934), the best known African-American poet, has also written plays and taken an active role in politics. Maya Angelou’s (1928) writings have taken various literary forms, including drama and her well-known memoir, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings (1970), in addition to her collection of verse, Just Give Me a Cool Drink of Water fore I Diiie (1971). Angelou was selected to write a poem for the inauguration of President Bill Clinton in 1993 - Another recently honored African-American poet is Rita Dove, who was named poet laureate of the United States in 1993. Dove, a writer of fiction and drama as well, won the 1987 Pulitzer Prize for Thomas and Beulah, in which she celebrates her grandparents through a series of lyric poems.

      She said that she wrote the work to reveal the rich inner lives of poor people. Michael Harper has similarly written poems revealing the complex lives of African - Americans faced with discrimination and violence. His dense, allusive poems often deal with crowded, dramatic scenes of war or urban life. They make use of surgical images in an attempt to heal. His “Clan Meeting: Births and Nations: A Blood Song” (1971), which compares cooking to surgery (“splicing the meats with fluids”), begins “we reconstruct lives in the intensive, care unit, pieced together in a buffet...” The poem ends by splicing together images of the hospital, racism in the early American film Birth of a Nation, the Ku Klux Klan, film editing, and X-ray technology. History, jazz, and popular culture inspire many African-Americans, from Harper (a college professor) to West Coast publisher and poet Ishmael Reed, known for spearheading multicultural writing through the Before Columbus Foundation and a series of magazines such as Yardbird, Quilt and Konch. Many African-American poets, such as Audre Lorde, have found nourishment in Afro centrism which sees Africa as a center of civilization since ancient times in sensuous poems such as “The Women of Dan Dance with Swords in their Hands to Mark the Time. When They Were Warriors”, she speaks as a woman warrior of ancient Dahomey, “warming whatever I touch” and “consuming” only “What is already dead.”

      Wendy Rose (1948) shares some themes in common with Ortiz and Wideman as she has poetic voice and she herself a poet. “Remember, I am a garnet woman” is one of the important poems. “If I am too brown or too white for You” is another poem. Through the series of linked images, she explores the fluid nature of her identity and the chance song gives her to celebrate the “the small light in the smoke, a tiny son in the blood.” Story telling, Rose tells in “Story Keeper’’ (1856) is something she learned from her family and her tribe. It offers her a return to her origins, and the means of rediscovering the personal by reconnecting it to the communal. Joy Haijo (1951) is a poet of Creek nation who mixes Anglo-American influences in her work. Her poems deploy her free verse line that connects her with the tradition of Whitman. They are also marked by a cadence that recalls the repetition of Indian ceremonial drum. There is a song here and a chant, as Hajro describes the Native American woman living on a knife’s edge. (“The Woman Hanging from a Thirteenth Floor Window”; 1983) the tragic past and the grim present of most native Americans (“New Orleans, 1983) rehearses her own memories and metaphoric sense identity. “Remember” is a poem in which she writes: “Remember that you are all people, and all people, are you”. Her poetic work is filled with’ the dire particulars of the Native American history, and is brimming with some new visions. She is always in search of right words to tell the truth of her tribe.

      N. Scott Momaday (1939) is from Kiowa tribe. When he wrote his most popular novel House Made of Dawn (1968), he did know any other novel of Native American existed. He was faced with an “unimagined” collective existence, the erasure of Native Americans from the National life and literature. Nevertheless, it is true that his first book helped to usher in a renaissance of Native American writing. A whole series of prose works followed this. They are other writers like, James Welch (1940-2003), Gerald Vizenor (b. 1934), Mermon Silko and Louis Erdrich (b. 1954) and Sherman Alexie (b. 1966). Each one of these produced works of equal standard. And also they are remarkably different and instrumental in producing a body of work that deserves a sort of comparative writing. Momaday lived in several non-Indian communities as a child as well as with several south-western tribes, especially, the Jemez Pueblo. One can consider fow of his works in the Names: A Memoir, he uses fictional techniques as well as traditional ones to rediscover himself and reinvention of himself. In his collection of verse, The Gourd Dancer (1976) and In the Presence of the Sun (1992), he has a wide range of themes and techniques. The Ancient Child (1989) mixes Kiowa bear stories and a contemporary tale of a male artists’ crisis, and outlaw fantasies imagined by the young medicine woman who tries to cure the artist’s disease. The next The Way to Rainy Mountain welds together several genres. Here, he collects stories from Kiowa elders and to these, he adds short historical commentaries. It consists of themes that resound in many of his major works. Of all, House Made of Dawn established his as novelist reputation and it remains his finest work of fiction.

      The Native American writing is full of raciness and variety of expiessions taken from the modern days as well as the tradition and folk techniques. It represented the culture of the marginalized in the present day American society-a multi-literal, multi-lingual and multi-cultural.

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