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Studies in American Indian Literatures 16.4 (2004) 79-88

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Resistance and Continuance through Cultural Connections in Simon J. Ortiz's Out There Somewhere

Simon J. Ortiz explains that the title of his 2002 collection of poetry, Out There Somewhere, is intended to mean "out there somewhere in everyday experience somewhere in America" (ix). He adds, "But while I have physically been away from my home area, I have never been away in any absolute way" (ix). The poems in Out There Somewhere attest to the cultural connections that Ortiz maintains even though he might be in some location other than the Acoma Pueblo. The resistance one finds in the poems—against mainstream political, social, and economic forces—results in continuance of Ortiz's Acoma heritage. That natives can still be natives when they are away from their tribal homelands speaks to those who are urban natives, which is over two-thirds of the native population in the United States: those natives who have left the reservation for economic reasons; those native tribes who have no land base; those natives who have no federal recognition as official native tribes; and those natives who for reasons of patrilineal or matrilineal descent have no tribal affiliation. Although they are "out there somewhere," they continue to be native, as Ortiz so deftly demonstrates. A political thread runs through Ortiz's earlier poetry collections, and this essay looks at a few of the poems in Out There Somewhere to see how this literature of resistance continues through cultural connections.

In the preface to Out There Somewhere Ortiz writes, "Yet at the same time that we are away, we also continue to be absolutely connected socially and culturally to our Native identity. We insist that we as human cultural beings must always have this connection because it [End Page 79] is the way we maintain a Native sense of Existence" (ix). In the first section of the book, "Margins," the opening poem, "Headlands Journal," speaks to the issues for which Ortiz is so well known. Ortiz was an artist in residence at the Headlands Center for the Arts (HCA) in Sausalito, California, in 1994. The HCA "seeks to explore and interpret the relationship between place and the creative process, and to extend appreciation for the role of artists in society" (Headlands). The poem has ten entries, dated from June 14 through July 14, and Ortiz reports on the conversations with his fellow-artists, the food, the weather, his health, alcoholism, memories, family, and a strong political attack on the U.S. government. The first entry is framed with romanticized descriptions of the moon: "The moon, the moon, the best kind of sky is the sunset light of the Pacific Ocean. Suddenly I'm too lonesome again" (3). In contrast, the central part of the first entry critically comments on the disproportionate number of natives in the Alaska state prisons: "When I say Alaska has a 17 percent Native population in the state and 70 percent Native inmate population in its state prisons, Victor shakes his head. Tanure nods yes, yes" (3). Both artists are from other countries, Victor from Mexico and Tanure from Nigeria, but they understand the injustice in the legal and penal systems that oppress dark-skinned people and those on the "margins."

In the second entry, dated June 16, Ortiz has an exchange at dinner with three artists from China. One of the two interpreters with them is white, and when Ortiz asks him how he learned to speak Chinese, he says, "Because of the diplomatic corps"; Ortiz thinks to himself, "[O]h shit the fucking CIA" (4). The progression from the opening romanticized description of the moon to critiquing state prisons and federal organizations, which deal in foreign intelligence and national security, leads to the final verbal assault on the U.S. government in the ninth entry. The progression symbolizes romanticized notions of American Indians that are demythologized by the reality of oppressive institutions of authority.

Ortiz contemplates the idea...


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pp. 79-88
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