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OKLAHOMA: THE PRAIRIE OF WORDS J o y H a r j o Oklahoma— the red earth gives meaning to the name. Oklahoma is derived from a Choctaw word which means “red people.” It is a place which has come to mean home to many tribal peoples. The word dances over our tongues like the bottomless sky that rolls over the curving prairie land. Oklahoma means a center of life to her people, a whole spirit of being. It is a place that comes clear in the voices of her people, who are of many languages and of many parts of the Oklahoma landscape. Kiowa, Creek, Comanche, or Pawnee— their names are these and many more. The sounds of these names fill the Oklahoma landscape. They mean alive and living communities, and signal the roots of many of the singers of the word. These words have a resonance, even on an Oklahoma state map. They begin stories, whole histories of tribal peoples who may have origi­ nated thousands of miles away north into Canada, or as close as Spiro Mound in the center of Oklahoma. As the word Oklahoma gives birth to meaning and creates an energy, it has also given birth to many native poets and writers who call Oklahoma home. Those of us who originate from there celebrate the life in her which is the life in ourselves as a part of the red earth. It is as Jim Barnes poignantly says: You’ve got to leave this land again before it hurts you into a sin the years will not ease: a constant fear swells in your groin and there’s a singing in the trees your blood wants to beat time to. from: “Autobiography, Chapter IX: Leaving, Again” In a sense, we never leave Oklahoma, or maybe it would be better said that Oklahoma never leaves us. The spirit is alive in the landscape that arranges itself in the poems and stories that are created and the spirit takes many forms and many voices. The earth is wounded and will not heal. Night comes down like a blackbird with blue flame that never sleeps and spreads its wings around us. from: “Oil,” by Linda Hogan 1 2 6 WAL 3 5 . 2 SUMMER 2 0 0 0 Acee Blue Eagle. CREEK WOMEN COOKING FISH. Ca. 1950. Watercolor on board. 18" x 28". The Philbrook Museum of Art, Tulsa, Oklahoma. What is breathing here is some sort of dangerous anger that rises up out of the Oklahoma landscape. The earth is alive with emotions, and will take action on what is being felt. This way of seeing is characteristic of most native poets and writers of Oklahoma. That which has happened to the earth, has happened to all of us as a part of the earth. We, as the tribal peoples of Oklahoma, bear a responsibility to that place, to the community of earth and language that has formed us. When we write we inadvertently tell who we are and where we came from. We also know our histories and tell even the most painful but true parts, because after all, these are a part of us, too. Carter Revard writes with this strong sense of history when he writes of his people, the Osage, and of his family’s particular piece of allotted land near Bird Creek— and the changes that occur. . .. built in a timbered hollow where deer came down at dusk with the stars to drink from the deep pools near Timber Hill and below . .. is how he sings it. The poem, called ‘Wazhazhe Grandmother,” is circular and whole. The history is revealed within this circle of time, where clear J o y H a r j o 1 2 7 pools of Bird Creek become piped water for municipal pools. And in a poem by a Cherokee writer, Carroll Arnett, Andrew Jackson is soundly cursed, and justly so, for he is a painful part of history that has affected all of Oklahoma’s tribal people. Duane Big Eagle gives a more personal narrative of history in “Oklahoma Boyhood.” All of these histories are a part of who we are. What Oklahoma becomes, in...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1948-7142
Print ISSN
0043-3462
Pages
pp. 125-128
Launched on MUSE
2017-10-04
Open Access
No
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