[Access article in PDF]
Dildos, Hummingbirds, and Driving Her Crazy
Searching for American Indian Women's Love Poetry and Erotics
In university course descriptions one finds classes about American Indian literature in varying degrees, depending on the institution, faculty, and location. To find a course on American Indian women's writing is truly difficult, and to find one on Native women's poetry even more extraordinary (unless you teach it yourself, as I do). Still, you would think that given the interdisciplinary trend current in academia, one would run across Native women writers in other courses and departments. And so, when I enrolled in "Women's Love Poetry and Erotics," at the University of Washington in 1997, I had reason to hope that some Native women writers would be included in the course readings and/or discussions. After all, this was Seattle, a ferry-ride away from one of the most prolific, and both infamous and famous writers of erotica, Chrystos! 1
Unfortunately, the syllabus did not include any women of color at all. My instructor had never heard of Chrystos or Joy Harjo, another excellent writer of sensuous love poetry, and suggested that I bring in some samples of Native women's love poetry and erotics. 2 I accepted eagerly. "Real, ripe, ripping erotica" was my instructor's criteria, and I had volumes of the stuff at home. Another obstacle arose: I was then told that the difficulty was not that this material did not exist, but that critical treatments of this work were nonexistent. This was a serious problem, but why did it mean that we, as a class, could not discuss Chrystos or Harjo? Why, without "proper documentation," did these two poets drop off the love poetry map?
Three subsequent years of searching revealed the extent of this invisibility. Native women's love poetry or erotics is absent from many well-written texts. For instance, Alicia Ostriker'sStealing the Language: The Emergence of Women's Poetry in Americacontains absolutely no reference to any American Indian woman writer. 3 Published in 1986, Ostriker's otherwise adequate and sometimes insightful text includes critical work about white, black, Chicana, and Asian American women writers, as well as works from the lesbian [End Page 135] community. Ostriker includes a brief examination of early (1650-1960) poetics, and sections on nature writing, anger, revisionist mythology, and women's erotics. But even in the "nature" section—where lost Indian writers are usually relegated—there are no references to any nature-loving Indians. More recent analyses of American women's poetry exist, but they are no better. I note Ostriker especially in part because of the influential nature of the anthology's publication and because it has become a template of exclusion that subsequent analyses have perpetuated. 4
Curious, and not yet completely conscious of such a systematic exclusion, I reviewed my personal collection of Native women's poetry and checked publication dates. Perhaps, I thought, Ostriker's text was published prior to the great American Indian Renaissance! 5 However, I found a number of books that had been published in or prior to 1985, the year before Ostriker's text came out. These include Mohawk Trail by Beth Brant (1985), Burning the Fieldsby Anita Endrezze-Danielson (1983), That's What She Said: Contemporary Fiction and Poetry by Native American Women, edited by Rayna Green (1984), She Had Some Horsesby Harjo (1983), What Moon Drove Me to Thisby Harjo (1979), Seeing Through the Sun by Linda Hogan (1985), The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems by Wendy Rose (1985), Hopi Roadrunner Dancingby Rose (1974), Lost Copper: Poemsby Rose (1980), Storytellerby Leslie Marmon Silko (1981), and Star Quilt: Poemsby Roberta Hill Whiteman (1984). 6 Native women also had substantial presence in the following American Indian anthologies (in no particular order): The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature, edited by Geary Hobson (1979); Voices...