In the 1970s, living among the Maya, Past watched the people endure as an epidemic swept through a village. No help came. Many children died. One mother offered her dead child a last sip of Coca-Cola and uttered a prayer:
Take this sweet dew from the earth, take this honey. It will help you on your way. It will give you strength on your path.
Incantations like this—poems about birth, love, hate, sex, despair, and death—coupled with primitive illustrations, provide a compelling insight into the psychology of these Mayan women poets. The Cinco Puntos edition of Incantations is a facsimile of the original handmade edition produced by the Taller Le–ateros. It was reviewed in The New York Times.
At the age of twenty-three, Ambar Past left the United States for Mexico. She lived among the Mayan people, teaching the techniques of native dyes and learning to speak Tzotzil. She is the creator of the graphic arts collective Taller Le–ateros in Chiapas and was a founding member of Sna Jolobil, a weaving cooperative for Mayan artisans.
In the first half of the book, “Tribal History,” Gould ingeniously repurposes the sonnet form to preserve the stories of her mother and aunt, who grew up when “muleback was the customary mode / of transport” and the “spirit world was present”—stories of “old ways” and places claimed in memory but lost in time. Elsewhere, she remembers her mother’s “ferocious, upright anger” and her unexpected tenderness (“Like a miracle, I was still her child”), culminating in the profound expression of loss that is the poem “Our Mother’s Death.”
In the second half of the book, “It Was Raining,” Gould tells of the years of lonely self-making and “unfulfilled dreams” as she comes to terms with what she has been told are her “crazy longings” as a lesbian: “It’s been hammered into me / that I’ll be spurned / by a ‘real woman,’ / the only kind I like.” The writing here commemorates old loves and relationships in language that mingles hope and despair, doubt and devotion, veering at times into dreamlike moments of consciousness. One poem and vignette at a time, Doubters and Dreamers explores what it means to be a mixed-blood Native American who grew up urban, lesbian, and middle class in the West.
A self-proclaimed “vessel in which stories are told from time immemorial,” poet dg nanouk okpik seamlessly melds both traditional and contemporary narrative, setting her apart from her peers. The result is a collection of poems that are steeped in the perspective of an Inuit of the twenty-first century—a perspective that is fresh, vibrant, and rarely seen in contemporary poetics.
Fearless in her craft, okpik brings an experimental, yet poignant, hybrid aesthetic to her first book, making it truly one of a kind. “It takes all of us seeing, hearing, touching, tasting, and smelling to be one,” she says, embodying these words in her work. Every sense is amplified as the poems, carefully arranged, pull the reader into their worlds. While each poem stands on its own, they flow together throughout the collection into a single cohesive body.
The book quickly sets up its own rhythms, moving the reader through interior and exterior landscapes, dark and light, and other spaces both ecological and spiritual. These narrative, and often visionary, poems let the lives of animal species and the power of natural processes weave into the human psyche, and vice versa.
Okpik’s descriptive rhythms ground the reader in movement and music that transcend everyday logic and open up our hearts to the richness of meaning available in the interior and exterior worlds.
(1868–1934) poems. Best known for her prose book The Land of Little
Rain (1903), Austin was in fact a poet from the beginning of her career to
the end, even though she never published a volume dedicated to her own
original poetry. Instead, Austin’s work came to light in collections of poetry
and in prestigious journals such as Poetry, the Nation, the Forum, Harper’s,
and Saturday Review of Literature, among many others.
The Road to the Spring contains more than 200 poems, most of which
can only be found in out-of-print books, magazines, and periodicals, and
her unpublished manuscripts archived at the Huntington Library. This singular
publication includes her original work, poems she claimed to have
written with her grammar school pupils at the end of the nineteenth century,
and her translations and "re-expressions" of Native American songs,
which often diverge greatly from any other known sources. Warren includes
an introduction, laying out Austin’s place in American literature and
situating her writings in feminist, environmentalist, regionalist, and Native
American contexts. He also includes notes for those new to Austin’s work,
glossing Native terms, geographical names, and the ethnological sources
of the Native songs she re-creates.
Precise images open to piercing meditations of Shawnee history. In the present, a woman watches the approximation of a scalping at a theatrical presentation. Da’ writes, “Soak a toupee with cherry Kool-Aid and mineral oil. / Crack the egg onto the actor’s head. / Red matter will slide down the crown / and egg shell will mimic shards of skull.” This vivid image is paired with a description of the traditional removal path of her own Shawnee ancestors through small towns in Ohio.
These poems range from the Midwestern landscapes of Ohio and Oklahoma to the Pacific Northwest, and the importance of place is apparent. Tributaries simultaneously offers us an extended narrative rumination on the impact of Indian policy and speaks to the contemporary experiences of parenthood and the role of education in passing knowledge from one generation to the next. This collection is composed of four sections that come together to create an important new telling of Shawnee past and present.
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.