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Essay Reviews White Corn Sister. By Peter Blue Cloud (Aroniawenrate). (Strawberry Press, P. O. Box 451, Bowling Green Station, N. Y., N. Y. 10004. 36 pages, $3.00.) I met Blue Cloud on the San Francisco Zephyr, rolling west from Chicago through the night. He was one of few on the train with the touch of weather on his face and the only Indian. I introduced myself and we had a few beers and talked about writing and the American Indian Movement and other things. He had a soft-spoken, decent strength about him and a watchfulness, the quality of bone-deep selfhood that distinguishes one who has been forcefully acquainted with what he is and is not. We rode the train and exchanged addresses and in time I received some of his books, w'hich affected me deeply. Hence, this is not a review in the purest literary sense, including no claim to the kind of objectivity which allows reviewers to distance themselves from their own idols and demons. White Corn Sister is Blue Cloud’s most recently published collection and includes three poems with plants — dogwood, milkweed and sweetgrass — as starting points, but the title poem which forms the body of the book is a “play for voices” which explores the links between human consciousness and the earth and the bonds which weave individuals into social and spir­ itual units. Blue Cloud’s approach is individual, but the language achieves the lyrical solemnity of “medicine talks” made by native holy men within the circle of ceremony or council and intended not as personal statements but as an intermediary voice between “the people” and the world, for the hearing of both. Without characterizing himself as a spokesman or religious leader, he still carries the force of his tradition and heritage. There is a difference in attitude between the concern of the artist based in the European-Judaeo-Christian preoccupation with the individual soul and the concern of the shaman or medicine person with the soul of the tribe, the heart of the people. One of the most wrenching difficulties in both the literary and human present is the loss of community and the void surround­ ing the personality which leads many poets, including those who are remote from native and traditional people, to draw upon the sources of American Indian oral literature for inspiration, to evoke a past which belongs to the 136 Western American Literature continent and is still only imperfectly grasped by the descendants of the invaders. Much of Blue Cloud’s strength lies in his act of translation, in cultural rather than linguistic terms. The confrontation of the rich and diverse background of the native cultures and that of the European ascendancy has left a remnant among today’s native people that survives with hope, irony and a certain battered courage. Blue Cloud draws from this still-vital source and renders his personal version in the form that we recognize as poetry, giving access to this heart-knowledge and dedicated, as he says in the epigraph, “to all peoples.” Instead of emphasizing self-examination divorced from his society — the observer gazing from a peak down onto the valleys of the ordinary, and musing — his aim is the personal articulation of the consensual consciousness: he gains poetic voice from the earth, from the joy and agony of living and knowing through his community rather than despite it. Though he is true to his tradition, there is no refuge taken in nostalgia. He speaks from the present as he must live in it: Here, where the big trees were so recently logged-off and the jagged teeth of stumps and the broken arms of branches question the meaning of sanity. . . . “Dogwood Blossoms” Sweetgrass is a plant used in purification and blessing which has deep emotional and historical significance for Indian people and in the poem of this name a feeling of intimacy with the world is evoked by a series of remembrances in which things — rain, berries, frog-song, snake, swallow, water and soil — are not used as symbols of internal states but as themselves, granting a sufficient value to bedrock reality and recognizing that life as a...


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