Join us for another round of poetry recommendations, this time in celebration of the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and contributions of Native people. Follow these poets over water, land, and ice, through dreams and histories, as they examine language, loss, violence, revolution, resilience, and home.
Horsefly Dress by Heather Cahoon
We convey meaning through language. We describe landscapes, histories, thoughts, ethics, memories, and science via language. Language is the way we express who we are and how we understand the world. To lose a language is to lose a way of living, a way of existing and feeling and walking through landscapes and histories. While to gain a language is to expand our connection to dreams and animals, to trees and medicines, to rivers and ancestors, to logic and truth. To gain a language is to gain ways of moving through the world. This is part of why I find Horsefly Dress, in which Cahoon sometimes mixes traditional Séliš (Salish) and Qlispé words and stories into contemporary contexts, so thrillingly necessary, revolutionary, and right. (University of Arizona Press)
What the Chickadee Knows by Margaret Noodin
“Whether we hear giji-giji-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen.” These are the first words in Noodin’s preface to a collection of poetry “conceived first in Anishinaabemowin and then in English.” These poems, Noodin writes, “are an attempt to hear and describe the world according to an Anishinaabe paradigm.” Including a pronunciation guide and English translations, What the Chickadee Knows allows readers another way to read and see and hear landscapes and lives and waters and skies around the confluence of the Minisota and Michizibi Rivers. (Wayne State University Press)
when it rains/ mat hekid o ju edited by Ofelia Zepeda
First published in 1982 and reissued in 2019, this book is one of the earliest published collections of literature written by and in the language of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the Gila River Indian (Pima) Community. Though when it rains is presented in a bilingual format, the writing was originally composed in Tohono O’odham and Pima. Zepeda believes this offered the nearly twenty mixed generation poets presented in the collection a crucial opportunity to write differently than they might in English. “I believe it would not have been as meaningful. Since we have no word for ‘poetry’ in the language, we call poems ha-cegĭtodag, literally thoughts.” The landscape of the Southwest is a life-shaping force of the thoughts on these pages. Writers think about rain, menacing horned toads, sun, prickly pear, cholla, mesquite beans, what it means to call a desert home. One contributor, Helen J. Ramon, writes “The desert is work, but for our good/The desert is for our good.” (University of Arizona Press)