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  • "That Is Why I Sent You to Carlisle"1Carlisle Poetry and the Demands of Americanization Poetics and Politics
  • Cristina Stanciu (bio)

So keep to the English,Help others to rise,Leave the Indian behind youIf you wish to grow wise.2

Prologue: Carlisle Poets

In 1913 a Carlisle student responded to a teacher's prompt for a composition entitled "My Industrial Work" with a poem, printed in the Carlisle Arrow with praise (and reproduced below almost in full). The editor did not reveal the student's name, except that he was from "Room Eight" and a budding poet. Such editorial practices of hiding students' identity-or tribal affiliation-were common in Carlisle publications, as we shall see. Although the student did not write purposefully for publication, he chose the medium of poetry. The poem turns out to be more daring in tone and imagery than perhaps the editorial staff could tell in 1913:

When the whistle blows at half past five,Once more I am up and still alive.Then I run down and wash my face,Then comb my hair and I'm ready for grace.In fifteen minutes there is a bugle call,The troops fall in and the roll is called.Then out in front the troops all stand,Saluting the flag with our hats in our hand.While standing in the wind our hair gets wavy [End Page 34] But, just the same, we right face, and march to gravy.Now this may sound like going a fishing,But this is my only industrial position.3

The poem "My Industrial Work" offers not only a rhymed glimpse into the daily routine of a Carlisle student-albeit in modest prosodic form-but also a snapshot of the regimented life Carlisle afforded its Indian students. Unlike most poems praising Carlisle and its leaders, however, "My Industrial Work," while seemingly recording the daily routine of Carlisle life (napping after lunch, studying for exams, going to mass, showing up for roll call, or eating dinner), offers a less flattering picture of the school. "When the whistle blows at half past five, / Once more I am up and still alive," the speaker records. While the rhyme scheme of the couplet-ending in "five" and "alive"-may justify the use of "alive" in the second line, the speaker's confession to be "still alive" brings to mind the toll such a strict, regimented life took on boarding school students. From rushing to brush their hair, to attending grace, to preparing for the bugle call, the students' "industrial work" is fast-paced. When the bugle calls, "the troops fall in and the roll is called," while the same "troops" of students salute the US flag "with our hats in our hands." The speaker's voice becomes collective as it recalls this moment of (imposed) patriotic allegiance, continued in the following lines as the troops "stand in the wind" and then "march to gravy." A striking absence in this rendition of "industrial work" at Carlisle is the student's perhaps deliberate omission of details about manual work. The last couplet conveys a sense of helplessness, of being trapped in a place that seems glamorous from the outside, yet offers no escape: "Now this may sound like going a fishing, / But this is my only industrial position." These last lines may be read as critical of Carlisle and its attempt to glamorize itself to outside readers. After all, Carlisle publications boasted institutional success in Americanizing Indian students to the outside world; yet, the speaker of this poem ends on a rather sad note. "My only industrial position" connotes that there is nothing glamorous about industrial work at Carlisle-except, perhaps, the occasional burst of a budding poet.

"Carlisle Poetry"?

American Indians have been writing poetry for centuries not only in English but also in Latin and Greek. As a recent study of recovered Indian [End Page 35] poetry documents, American Indians "were already writing poetry when American poetry was born, more than a century before the American Revolution."4 But how could Indian students who barely spoke English and were trained to become laborers write poetry? But how could they not? Despite the...


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