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Book Review s 3 6 9 Blue Horses Rush In: Poems and Stories. By Luci Tapahonso. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1997. 104 pages, $22.95/$ 12.95. a snake in her mouth: poems 1974-96. By nila northSun. Albuquerque, N .M .: W est End Press, 1997. 96 pages, $8.95. Reviewed by Tom Lynch N ew M exico State University “life on the rez / is special / it’s different.” So begins the poem “life on the rez” by nila northSun, but the statement could stand as an introduction to either of these books by Native American women. Each book, in very dis­ tinctive ways, portrays the harmony and discord, the beauty and ugliness, of reservation life in the contemporary West. northSun, of Chippewa-Shoshone descent, lives on the Stillwater Indian Reservation near Fallon, Nevada. Tapahonso was raised on the much larger Navajo Indian Reservation in New Mexico. Though addressing similar topics—family and community life on rural reservations, personal longings and disappointments—the voices of these two poets are quite different. northSun’s poetry is gritty, angry, clipped, and sardonic as she laments the poverty and despair she sees around her. Tapahonso’s voice is lyrical, full-voiced, and celebratory, even when describ­ ing negative experiences. Certainly the poets’ individual personalities might account for these differences in tone, but one can’t help wondering whether the differences between the two Native American cultures might not also be a factor. The language, traditional stories, and the ceremonies remain strong in the Navajo culture. But as northSun suggests in the poem “moving camp too far,” for her at Stillwater the traditional culture seems remote and the cul­ ture that has replaced it insipid. i don’t know what it was to hunt buffalo or do the ghost dance but i can eat buffalo meat at the tourist burger stand i can dance to indian music rock-n-roll hey-a-hey-o i can & unfortunately i do northSun’s awareness of a heroic, if idealized, past lying so tantalizingly near, yet so irretrievably remote, sets up a sustained sense of irony that per­ 3 7 0 WAL 3 4 .3 FALL 1999 meates her book. In poem after poem life is displayed as a series of disap­ pointments, a search for ways of coping with frustrated expectations. Her casual, seemingly unpolished style—all lowercase letters and no punctua­ tion— contributes to this effect, creating the impression that these poems are snatches of conversation or random laments the reader has happened to overhear rather than the carefully crafted works of art they really are. In spite of the poverty on the reservation, northSun’s sense of family ties and community connections remains important, if sometimes frayed. The poem “up &. out,” for example, complains about the high cost of living in a city and longs for a return to the reservation. on the reservation there we lived in gramma’s old house no rent the wood stove saved electricity & heating bills we only got one t.v. channel but we visited with relatives more god how i hated living on the reservation but now it doesn’t look so bad In some poems, as for instance in “the life of an indian,” northSun seems conscious to avoid an excess of “lo, the poor Indian” clichés and the romanticization of despair she sometimes flirts with. Indeed, the poem makes the following assertion: the life of any indian is filled with dirty dishes a broken down vacuum cleaner a color t.v. that’s on a good 10 hours a day &. piles of “recycled” kids’ clothes from 3 other families But the poem concludes with the awareness that this does not constitute the sum total of Indian life: there are some that play chopin on the piano or listen to punk music some vacation on hawaiian beaches &. drink cognac Although Luci Tapahonso grew up near Shiprock, New Mexico, her academic career has uprooted her, and she finds herself in a very different environment at the University of Kansas. This removal from a land and family she so clearly loves has provoked a disharmony and intense longing. BOOK REVIEWS 371 “To leave Shiprock is difficult,” she...


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