Disclaimer: ARC via Netgalley.
I don’t usually request poetry ARCs because I read poetry slowly, which, to be honest, is how it should be read outside of epic poetry. This means, unless the collection is small, I tend to read a few poems each day over a period of time. I am, however, trying to deepen my knowledge of Native American and First Peoples history and literature, largely because I love Inuit and Zuni artwork. (Seriously, my first trip to Montreal where I actually got a good look at several Inuit pieces I was in love with the art, mostly because I knew some of the stories that were being depicted. When I brought my first piece, I literally was skipping back to the hotel). Additionally, the cover to this Open Road edition was really nice.
Ray Young Bear’s poetry is the type that is both beautiful and painful. It’s particularly beautiful when Young Bear writes about nature. There is a wonderful poem, “January Gifts from the Ground Squirrel Entity”, that details the finding of nuts in his shoes, and he wonders if they are gifts because he shared peanuts earlier. “Three Views of a Northern Pike” is not only about the fish, but about how the fish can be seen in different ways, and one must ask is it just the fish that is being discussed there.
The poetry is painful because it does remind one of what Native tribes lost and are still losing. Perhaps it is because of the recent articles in the New York Times concerning water shortages on reservations as well as about the high incidents of rape and abuse (of both men and women). There is anger and sadness, some poems are outright political. This doesn’t mean that the poems are still beautiful. There is “A Drive to Lone Ranger” which includes the lines “In the gradual darkness our conversation/centers on Northern Lights:/celestial messengers in green atomic oxygen”. There are also comments about white poets being accepted for writing about Native beliefs and practices, ones that were viewed from a tourist perspective and the publication world ignoring or disregard actual Native American poets.
The most wonderful poems appear to those that make use of tribal songs or music. The poem itself becomes a mixture of the Native American language and English. It is written in such a way that it does capture the spirit of music.
Because this collection is divided by how the poems were published (section off by book), some of the poems have notes that follow, and some notes. The notes cover a variety of topics, from Ray Young Bear’s life story to tribal customs to even a few rough drafts. This makes reading the notes well worth the time.