November 09, 2007

Review of Dancing on the Rim of the World

Dancing on the Rim of the World: An Anthology of Contemporary Northwest Native American Writing (Sun Tracks, Vol 19) (Paperback)Lerner claims that this anthology of prose and poems by 34 writers is an attempt to represent "the continuity of American Indian culture, art, and literature" and renounce "the myth of 'lost' Indian culture." However, because the editor fails to define what the elements of this tradition are or to examine the question of continuity between an oral tradition and a written one, the attempt does not succeed. Many of the writers collected here practice forms of poetry that are largely structured on European models. The poet that's the only name she has/pk Chrystos, on the other hand, who describes herself as "proudly uneducated," exemplifies resistance against Anglo culture and political domination: "Everything the United States does to everybody is bad / No this US is not a good idea yep, no period, apparently she's against punctuation too/pk We declare you terminated." Other poets, such as Phil George, employ techniques that allude to an oral tradition: repeating rhymes, list-making and call-and-response. Whatever its shortcomings, this is, nevertheless, a variegated anthology that gathers a wide range of Native American voices. Lerner is a doctoral student in comparative American literature.Rob's review:  This book comes from the pre-Alexie era of Northwest Native writing. Too bad, because it could've used a jolt of his edginess and humor.

I'm not sure why I got Dancing on the Rim of the World, since I'm not a poetry fan. In any case, I agree that it "doesn't succeed." Maybe it's just me, but I found most of the poems uninteresting or incomprehensible.

Rob's rating:  2.5 of 10.

Ironically, the Chrystos poem mentioned in the review above was one of the few poems I enjoyed. It may be the best piece in the book. Here it is:

I Have Not Signed a Treaty With the United States Government

nor has my father nor his father
nor any grandmothers
We don't recognize these names on old sorry paper
Therefore we declare the United States a crazy person
   nightmare    lousy food    ugly clothes    bad meat
   nobody we know
No one wants to go there    This US is theory    illusion
terrible ceremony    The United States can't dance    can't cook
   has no children    no elders    no relatives
They build funny houses no one lives in but papers
   Everything the United States does to everybody is bad
No this US is not a good idea    We declare you terminated
   You've had your fun now go home we're tired    We signed
no treaty    WHAT are you still doing here    Go somewhere else and
   build a McDonalds    We're going to tear all this ugly mess
down now    We revoke your immigration papers
   your assimilation soap suds    your stories are no good
your colors hurt our feet    our eyes are sore
   our bellies are tied in sour knots    Go Away Now
   We don't know you from anybody
You must be some ghost in the wrong place    wrong time
   Pack up your toys    garbage    lies
We    who are alive now
   have signed no treaties
Burn down your stuck houses    your sitting
   in a nowhere grayglow    Your spell is dead
So go far away we won't remember you ever came here
   Take these words back with you


writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
And writerfella agrees that the bulk of such 'stream-of-consciousness' works would prove uninteresting or even incomprehensible, to someone who does not possess that consciousness...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

Thank you for your abstract opinion. Now read the book and tell us whether you think it's good or not.

Actually, I don't understand or appreciate most poetry. It has nothing to do with whether Natives or non-Natives have written it.

In general, I like books by Native authors as much as I like books by non-Native authors. That suggests I "get" the Native consciousness. If I didn't, I wouldn't rate Native books so highly.

writerfella said...

Writerfella here --
writerfella might be disposed to do that very thing, if only he did not despise poetry of an ilk. BACKGROUND: in 1955, in 7th grade, Mrs. Campbell's English class assignment was to write a poem. writerfella turned out something about 'clouds' and it wound up being selected for a statewide poetry contest. And it won, getting writerfella a copy of the Oklahoma volume and a check for $25. The next year, 8th grade, same teacher, and the poem assigment came up again. Since writerfella had been reading nuclear doomsday science fiction all summer, he wrote a carefully crafted cautionary poem about the dangers of mutual nuclear annihilation. Thus, writerfella stood fairly assured he would win again. But...he didn't. A white girl won and writerfella's poem never even got discussed. But then the teacher asked writerfella to remain after class. Okay, maybe it was a special case. But when the class left, and writerfella stood before the teacher, she angrily shook the poem in writerfella's face and said, "You did not write this poem! You read it in a book, copied it down, wrote your own name on it, and then handed it in to me! But you did not write this poem!" writerfella, near tears, tried to convince her that, yes, it was his poem and he did indeed write it. To no avail. She held up the poem again, and said, "Do you know what plagiarism means? Look it up in the dictionary! And this is what plagiarism deserves!" And she tore the poem to shreds right in front of writerfella, whereupon he burst into tears. It was the only copy. Since such a time, he never has been able to write or even to read poetry and likely never will...
But then again, Rob, how can you 'get' something that ostensibly doesn't exist, in the face of that supposed Native expert saying that Native fiction doesn't exist because Natives didn't write such (poetry included)? But writerfella thinks he gets it: you are a science fictional construct and it is that writerfella made you up...
All Best
Russ Bates

Rob said...

There you go writing l-o-o-o-n-g comments again.

Didn't you just say your "Native consciousness" would let you understand anything written by a Native? If not, you certainly implied it.

I've posted some of David Treuer's opinions, but I never said I agreed with them. In case you hadn't noticed, I sometimes post things I disagree with.

If Treuer's claims are the source of your animosity, don't take it out on me. In other words, don't blame the messenger for the message.

Sorry your teacher tore up your poem. But she was should look up words in the dictionary.