Allison Adele Hedge Coke, ed.: Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas.
Unique both in its content and in its geographic breadth, Sing: Poetry from the Indigenous Americas brings together for the first time Indigenous poetic voices from across the Americas in a single volume. Neither a manifesto nor a comprehensive collection of Indigenous American verse, the book celebrates the linguistic, cultural, historical, and experiential diversity of human existence on the continent as expressed in the work of "some of the finest poets publishing today in the Indigenous Americas" (10). The poems represent communities from Alaska, Canada, and the United States; Mexico, Guatemala, and Ecuador; and Colombia, Venezuela, Chile, and Peru. The poems are composed in Lenape, Cherokee, Anishinaabe, Mayan, Quechua, Mapuche, Kamsa, Spanish, and English, with a dose of rez/urban vernacular rounding things out. Organized in seven sections, each focused on a given thematic, approach, tone, or intention, poems range in style from the artistically, linguistically, and formally complex to accessible expressions rooted in vernacular traditions and the language, experience, and circumstances of contemporary life.
While readers in both hemispheres will likely recognize many of the contributors, Sing also introduces new and lesser-known voices that have yet to find their way into broader circulation. Poems by such recognizable names as Harjo, Ortiz, Tohe, Erdrich, Revard, and Miranda sit comfortably alongside work by Brandy Nalani McDougall, Elise Paschen, Tiffany Midge, Paula Nelson, Marci R. Rendon, Natalie Diaz, and Chip Livingston. The volume also gifts those unfamiliar with poetic traditions of the Southern Hemisphere with a powerful introduction to a body of work that reminds us of the urgency and immediacy of expression while also demonstrating commonalities of experience that cut across national, cultural, geographic, and historical boundaries. Special attention is given to those writers whose communities face imminent threat of state violence and who choose to sing despite very real threats to their lives and well-being. Together, the poets and poems emerging from the lands of eagle and condor mutually inform one another, each expanding upon, departing from, or lending depth and complexity to others.
This is nowhere better evident than in the text's complex engagement with contemporary Indigenous experience. While familiar issues of cultural survivance, historical erasure, misrepresentation, and political struggle are well (and rightfully) represented, they are balanced by other expressions of what it means to "be" Indigenous in the Americas today. Questions of home and family are two themes that loom large throughout the book. Where Phil Young and Joseph Bruchac conceive of home at the intersection between place, experience, and memory, Jennifer Forester and Tenille Campbell consider both the pain of having to leave home and the joys of being able to return. For each poet, family and kin relations--both historical and contemporary--define one's ties to home, providing a tether that connects person to place through time and space. Not surprisingly, family is also the locus through which to celebrate the strength of loved ones, the pain of loss, and the hope of forgiveness and reconciliation. Louise Erdrich's and Donna Beyer's loving odes to their grandmothers speak equally to Marci Rendon's tribute to her abuela's struggle for security and love and to Deborah Miranda's prayer for paternal forgiveness in "Ghost Road Song." Other poems by Jules Koostachin, Natalie Diaz, and Molly McGlennen meditate on the unwavering devotion of parents toward their children through metaphors of hunger and sacrifice, while Layli Long Soldier writes of both the extreme joys and the profound sorrows of childbirth. In a powerful rift on the theme of family and forgiveness, Allison Hedge Coke's "America, I Sing You Back" expresses love for a people and a nation that turned their backs on their Indigenous forebears as a child rebels against its parents. Despite the pain and suffering that betrayal engendered, the speaker is willing to forgive the trespass and welcome the prodigal child back home.
This emphasis on love extends as well to interpersonal and ecological relationships and to the vicissitudes and pleasures of daily life. Where the poetic speakers in poems by Rita Gover, Laura Tohe, and Janet McAdams capture the conflicting emotions as relationships end and yet, in their ending, invoke cherished memories and the promise of new beginnings, the speaker in Al Hunter's "Lacuna" finds solace and security in the constancy of a loved one. Singing of the earth and the land, Brandy McDougall's "Haloa Naka" offers thanks for the spiritual and material gifts aina provides her people, while Norys Sanchez, Lionel Leinlaf, and Judi Armbruster express gratitude for the regenerative gift of rain. Similarly, Fredy Chicangana, Laura Mann, and Linda Hogan celebrate love affairs with animals and tradition that hold profound cultural and personal significance for each writer. In one of the most distinct voices of the text, Santee Frazier expresses the seemingly banal yet profoundly significant experiences of many urban Indians who daily juggle childcare, poverty, violence, and malnutrition with persistence and grace. On the other side of hunger, Asani Charles offers a hilarious account of her passion for frybread, fried chicken, and corn stew because they remind of her family and home, a connection Jim Northrup intuits in "Dibiki-Ziigwaagaame/Night Syrup" as he writes, "And then I understand/ Sweet dark syrup/tastes like life" (185).
The same might be said for the offerings of this collection--they sound, taste, smell, and feel like life. Indeed, the book's strength lies in its celebration of Indigenous life in all its variety, complexity, and beauty throughout the Americas and in its urgent message of, healing and reconciliation between the land and the human and other communities--both Indigenous and non-Indigenous--that inhabit it. In its transgression of settler-state borders and state-national literary traditions, Sing brings the self-limiting artificiality of such boundaries into relief and evidences the potential and power of Indigenous art to speak to contemporary challenges facing communities of all stripes. The text's continental approach also begins to fill a lacuna in Native and Indigenous literature that has, to date, reproduced the very national borders it often seeks to destabilize and challenge. In an increasingly globalizing, transnational, post-Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples world, hemispheric work will undoubtedly command more attention. In its profoundly humanistic celebration of Indigenous life across the continent, Sing lays a solid foundation upon which such work might take root and grow.
Kirby Brown, University of Oregon
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Publication:||The American Indian Quarterly|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2013|
|Previous Article:||History of transracial adoption: a new Zealand perspective.|
|Next Article:||Dean Rader. Engaged Resistance: American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI.|