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“T h e W o r d G e t s A r o u n d ”: L e s lie M a rm o n S i l k o ’s T h e o r y o f N a r r a t iv e S u r v i v a l in T h e D e l ic a c y a n d S t r e n g t h o f L a c e D a n i e l M o r r i s In “The People and the JAMES WRIGHT Land ARE Inseparable,” Leslie Marmon Silko states that La­ guna narratives recontextualize individual trauma as “part of the vil­ lage’s eternal narratives about loss and failure, narratives that identify the village and that tell the people who they are” (91). In an ex­ change of letters with the poet James Wright (1927-1980), Silko (b. 1948) makes use of the Laguna view of narrative’s ability to contextualize stories by placing the individual experience in relation to a communitarian discourse— in this instance, Wright’s struggle with death. The exchange took place between 1978 and Wright’s death from cancer in 1980; this collection of letters was published in edited form as The Delicacy and Strength of Lace in 1986. Silko explores the way language forms and situates humans and also shows that narrative poetry can serve a pragmatic, therapeutic function. In “On Nonfiction Prose,” she explains that the letters provided a means of personal sur­ vival, describing them as a “lifeline to me. . . . at a time when I was very much isolated after my move to Tucson” (193). Wright describes the letters as “one of the finest things I have ever had anything to do with in my life” (Delicacy 79). In this essay I pay special attention to three poems Silko included in her second letter to Wright. I call this letter the “rooster letter” because its preliminary subject matter is the activity of a rooster who lives outside Silko’s front door in Tucson. When the D a n i e l M o r r i s 4 9 rooster is killed by a coyote midway through the correspondence, Silko tests her conviction that stories can revivify once-living things. The “rooster letter,” a mosaic of poems, personal anecdotes, as well as lore about the ritual deer dance, allows me to focus on the semantic, or referential, nature of representation as Silko understands it. I also discuss the pragmatic function of this kind of poetry, or the relation of the sign to the participants in its communication. As opposed to the EurO'American ideal of writing based on the principle of differ­ ence signified by individual style, Silko understands narrative as a collective activity in which personal being is linked to communitar­ ian belonging through storytelling. Wright and Silko perceived themselves as figures on the margin between distinct literary and social communities. Both perceived their own writing as a link between persons at critical intersections within the American experience. Wright’s initiation of a correspon­ dence with Silko upon reading her novel Ceremony is in line with the attention he paid throughout his career to literary models that challenged traditional English forms. In the 1950s, when the urbane voices of W. H. Auden and T. S. Eliot became the examples for much academic poetry in the United States, Wright modeled his first two books after Robert Frost and Edwin Arlington Robinson, poets who ill­ ustrate the qualities of “honesty, directness of feeling, willingness to attempt new forms, and integrity of craft” that David C. Dougherty claims are elements of style that Wright sought in his own poems (2). In the early 1960s, Wright renewed his style by publishing translations of South American poets Pablo Neruda and Cesar Vallejo and the Austrian poet Georg Trakl and then by incorporating „ „ y 1 e LESLIE MARMON SILKO Lee Marmon W A L 34(1) S p r in g 1999 their practice of suppressing the continuities between images into his own poetry in the ground-breaking volumes The Branch Will Not Break and Shall We...


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