John Smelcer is the award-winning author of more than 40 books. His short stories, poems, interviews, and essays appear in over 400 magazines and journals worldwide.
—from “WHEREAS Statements”
WHEREAS confronts the coercive language of the United States government in its responses, treaties, and apologies to Native American peoples and tribes, and reflects that language in its officiousness and duplicity back on its perpetrators. Through a virtuosic array of short lyrics, prose poems, longer narrative sequences, resolutions, and disclaimers, Layli Long Soldier has created a brilliantly innovative text to examine histories, landscapes, her own writing, and her predicament inside national affiliations. “I am,” she writes, “a citizen of the United States and an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe, meaning I am a citizen of the Oglala Lakota Nation—and in this dual citizenship I must work, I must eat, I must art, I must mother, I must friend, I must listen, I must observe, constantly I must live.” This strident, plaintive book introduces a major new voice in contemporary literature.
Leslie Marmon Silko's groundbreaking book Storyteller, first published in 1981, blends original short stories and poetry influenced by the traditional oral tales that she heard growing up on the Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico with autobiographical passages, folktales, family memories, and photographs. As she mixes traditional and Western literary genres, Silko examines themes of memory, alienation, power, and identity; communicates Native American notions regarding time, nature, and spirituality; and explores how stories and storytelling shape people and communities. Storyteller illustrates how one can frame collective cultural identity in contemporary literary forms, as well as illuminates the importance of myth, oral tradition, and ritual in Silko's own work. This edition includes a new introduction by Silko and previously unpublished photographs.
Nature Poem follows Teebs—a young, queer, American Indian (or NDN) poet—who can’t bring himself to write a nature poem. For the reservation-born, urban-dwelling hipster, the exercise feels stereotypical, reductive, and boring. He hates nature. He prefers city lights to the night sky. He’d slap a tree across the face. He’d rather write a mountain of hashtag punchlines about death and give head in a pizza-parlor bathroom; he’d rather write odes to Aretha Franklin and Hole. While he’s adamant—bratty, even—about his distaste for the word “natural,” over the course of the book we see him confronting the assimilationist, historical, colonial-white ideas that collude NDN people with nature. The closer his people were identified with the “natural world,” he figures, the easier it was to mow them down like the underbrush. But Teebs gradually learns how to interpret constellations through his own lens, along with human nature, sexuality, language, music, and Twitter. Even while he reckons with manifest destiny and genocide and centuries of disenfranchisement, he learns how to have faith in his own voice.
In these poems, the joys and struggles of the everyday are played against the grinding politics of being human. Beginning in a hotel room in the dark of a distant city, we travel through history and follow the memory of the Trail of Tears from the bend in the Tallapoosa River to a place near the Arkansas River. Stomp dance songs, blues, and jazz ballads echo throughout. Lost ancestors are recalled. Resilient songs are born, even as they grieve the loss of their country. Called a "magician and a master" (San Francisco Chronicle), Joy Harjo is at the top of her form in Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings.