on new poets of native nations

The first anthology of Native poets in decades, New Poets of Native Nations spotlights the vast scope and deep impact of new Native poetry.

An anthology without a theme, New Poets of Native Nations features twenty-one poets of Native nations whose first books were published after the year 2000. The anthology is the first of its kind in the twenty-first century, with the last best-selling anthology of Native poets having been published in 1996. Editor Heid E. Erdrich aimed to “present a substantial and strong gathering of work by U.S. Native writers” to “the general market for American poetry,” but her interest in quality work alone guided her selection process. The anthology has no central motif, though several of the poems happen to share, as Erdrich points out, “a few commonalities,” namely “uses of indigenous languages, hybrid styles, and allusions to or direct mentions of other writers from Native nations.” The result is a collection of many different kinds of subjects and styles, one that spotlights variety instead of attempting to define a shared cultural context for all Native poets.

The work here ranges from the lyrical to the prosaic, the associative to the archival. The bilingual poems of Margaret Noodin sit beside selections from the fast-paced long poems of Tommy Pico; Jennifer Elise Foerster’s reflections on memory, family, and growth precede Natalie Diaz’s meditations on space and personhood; Julian Talamantez Brolaski’s aesthetic of dynamic self-report follows dg nanouk okpik’s maps of voices and images. Even the individual poems of each poet tend to differ from each other in substantial ways, in terms of both concept and form. Brolaski draws from both the poems of his first book’s “ecopoetical exploration of the Gowns Canal in Brooklyn,” a former fishing ground for the Canarsie Native American tribe, and those of his second collection’s “colloquy on the mongrel body.” Versatility, not uniformity, guides the poetics of nearly every other writer as well.

The anthology concludes with a series of author notes detailing each writer’s inspirations, poetics, and recommendations for further reading. The notes point toward other Native writers readers might enjoy, and though they rather dramatically vary in length, they all give a strong sense of the principles that guide each poet. Erdrich offers the appendix not just as a way to further familiarize readers with these writers, but also as a rare chance for the writers to discuss their work in print on their own terms. The editor, in her introduction, draws attention to the fact that Native American poetry conventionally has been presented “with a lot of apparatus and within binary notions of an easily digestible ‘American Indian’ history.” The notes, along with Erdrich’s open-ended selection criteria, help New Poets of Native Nations depart from convention on both fronts: the anthology collects poems of vast breadth, and presents them in ways that don’t reduce or limit their meanings.

For ease of reference, I’ve included links to the Amazon pages of my favorite poets of the anthology, as well as their pages on Poetry Foundation:

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