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Reviews 169 Indian culture (the chapter on the piñón in Indian myth is especially intriguing) or in pine-nut cookery (Harriette Lanner’s appendix is welldone ) . And most of all this is a book for anyone who has ever encountered the strange, sparse beauty of these elegant dryland woods. JOHN HART, San Anselmo, California A Closed Book. By Richard Blessing. (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1981. 88 pages, $8.95.) The book’s title is beautifully descriptive. Closed, not in the sense that it is obscure or even between two covers, but in that it is shaped. Most collections of poems are just that — collections — made up of the bits and pieces of the poet’s work over a certain or uncertain time. Here, the dust jacket says, the book “falls into four parts”: “Calling Home,” on the poet’s roots; “Poem in a Closed Book,” on the act of poetry itself; “Directions for Dying,” on death, of course; and “Winter Stories,” on personal loss and recovery. And the book does fall into those four parts. But the delight of it is that those four parts are related. True, the second and third sections do not fit into a chronology of the poet’s life, but they nevertheless express his deepest concerns. And so there is a sense of progres­ sion through a connected series of felt experiences. Or, at least, for the attentive reader. “Attentive,” since most of this poetry seems rather simple, straight­ forward, and one could easily miss the emotion or read it only as sentimen­ tality. But the poems are more rich than that. Of course they aren’t all good; one cannot make excessive claims here. The conscious (and perhaps sometimes unconscious) echoes of Wallace Stevens aren’t always useful. For example, “This Paper,” which reads on with “has a side / that may be on fire / /I/ Perhaps a woman is walking/ alone, under four moons. / She leaves tracks in the white dust” is too, too thirteen and other ways. And “Absence,” beginning with “Let us start with a man,” is neither Blessing nor Stevens. But, but. . .. In that same section (the second) Blessing has a couple of nicely satirical, and personal, poems. And a true voice comes through in his elegy on Elvis Presley, a most unpromising subject for such a poem. And although the third section, “Directions for Dying,” has too many poems which are a little too fashionably surrealistic, obscure without a redeeming passion, a counter example from the first section, “The Boy with the Sad Fingers,” also appears “surrealistic” in part, but the odd images, “sad fingers . . . / peeling / like dark bananas, nasty as snails,” and with the boy crawling inside the house drawn by the sad fingers, are powerfully evocative of child­ hood’s suffering seen by the adult. In short, here “surrealism” works. 170 Western American Literature The best poems, however, are in the first and last sections where Bless­ ing has himself as his subject. These are not confessional poems in that easy 1960s’ way, but rather carefully shaped and moving meditations upon one’s own life. Too, these are the ones that most clearly do give form to the book. But oddly it is difficult to find quotations, since the individual lines may not seem what the whole poem makes them. “Keeping a Roof over Your head” is filled with loss, as is “What I Know by Heart,” but a line like “You haven’t needed me for a year and a month” is dead out of context. Yet in context it is a real cry, a passionate cry. And “Winter Stories” needs the double “narrative,” the stories the two lovers tell in bed and which come together in the speaker’s “dream,” to make the affirmative “We/ are the mir­ aculous space, the welcome stable in the winter fields” a marvellous sentence. This is, then, a book to read whole, not just by isolated image, line, or, even, poem. Even the weaker poems contribute to that wholeness. A good book, satisfying, disturbing, full. L. L. LEE, Western Washington University Let My People Know: American Indian Journalism, 1828-1978. By James E. Murphy and Sharon M. Murphy...


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pp. 169-170
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