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Reviewed by:
  • New Poets of Native Nations ed. by Heid E. Erdrich
  • Sarah Dowling (bio)
New Poets of Native Nations
Edited by Heid E. Erdrich
Graywolf Press, 2018

We do and we do not write of treaties, battles, and drums. We do and we do not write about eagles, spirits, and canyons. Native poetry may be those things, but it is not only those things. It is also about grass and apologies, bones and joy, marching bands and genocide, skin and social work, and much more.


native american poetry has been described as a scholarly field that barely exists. It is threatened by broad trends within literary studies that deempha size poetry in favor of short stories, novels, and memoirs. Some argue that its coherence is also undercut by long-standing debates over literary nationalism. And until very recently, it lacked a reliable, up-to-date anthology representing its canon. In the three decades since the last anthology appeared, however, countless Indigenous poets have launched careers, won major awards, and reshaped the possibilities of poetry and poetics writ large. Whatever the state of the field, the genre is flourishing: Indigenous voices are at the center of a particularly vibrant moment in contemporary poetry, and poets are key figures in what many are calling a new Indigenous renaissance.

Heid E. Erdrich’s formidable New Poets of Native Nations performs the crucial service of documenting this florescence, gathering twenty-one Native American poets whose work demonstrates the vitality and variety of the genre. The anthology focuses on the new and the now: each author included published their first book in or after the year 2000. Thus, while established active writers such as Joy Harjo and James Thomas Stevens are not represented, readers are offered a fulsome illustration of where Native American poetry is going—Erdrich features Jennifer Foerster, Layli Long Soldier, dg nanouk okpik, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, Cedar Sigo, and others. Erdrich gives pride of place to writers’ first books, attending to possibility, incipience, and the launching of careers. The author notes provided at the end of the book direct readers’ attention to independent publishing networks that support Native American authors and even to emerging Indigenous poets who have yet to publish their first books.

Erdrich’s selections display an incredible variety in their forms and styles and in their authors’ tribal and cultural affiliations, genders, and sexualities. [End Page 142] Significant commonalities are, however, traceable across the anthology. Erdrich notes three: the use of Indigenous languages, the use of hybrid forms, and the use of direct references and allusions to the works of other Indigenous writers. Together, these similarities indicate an insistent push to develop new modes of writing appropriate to the representation of Native American lives and experiences. The use of Indigenous languages, for example, takes many forms throughout the collection, from the single, often fragmented words in Chamoru seen in Perez’s poetry, to the bilingual poems of Margaret Noodin, where Anishinaabemowin and English appear alongside one another in equal measure. While these techniques differ significantly, they similarly point to the devastation that English has wreaked, as well as to the possibilities of linguistic revitalization. In a variety of ways, they refuse to naturalize English as the sole language of Native American literary expression.

Perhaps its greatest virtue is that New Poets of Native Nations is ideal for classroom use. Its competitive price (only $18!) means that, unlike many anthologies, it can comfortably be assigned alongside other books. Erdrich offers a lavish selection of works from each of her writers: students can immerse themselves in the intricate arguments of longer pieces, like Long Soldier’s poetic essay “38” and Pico’s epic Nature Poem. In addition, her curation places poetry among other practices: many of the poets included in this book are active as visual artists, as language instructors, as anthologists and editors in their own right, and as public figures on social media. The anthology invites students to move outward, to consider poetry as a way of speaking to and with communities and as a specific practice of thinking and knowing—one in which students might even participate.

New Poets of Native Nations vividly conveys...


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pp. 142-143
Launched on MUSE
Open Access
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