"I ask you to bless the white man. He needs your wisdom, your guidance. Please teach him humility."

Indigenous Poetry

The poets of the Indigenous Americas have assumed principal roles in oratory while defining present and presence; contemporarily interpreting value and condition; and performing intellectual reasoning which may very well present necessary prophesies of solution for our world. It is in these voices the culture resonates and is shared freely, and in these voices are indicators of deeper realms in actual presence within places of origin now often inhabited by representatives of nearly all peoples of the global planet. Whereas inclusions are also present of Indigenous American poets’ ventures to outside regions and continents as well. [1]

How then to relate indigenous poetry with contemporary poetry? The conference objective is stated, thus: "to seek, determine and disseminate whatever linkages may still exist between indigenous and contemporary poetry." The formulation of the objective as it goes is a manifestation of what we have mentioned as the great divide, for the statement presumes that indigenous poetry is an altogether different and separate entity from contemporary poetry, even suggesting its reduction to the status of a mere cultural relic. There is also an assumption of characteristics of contemporary poetry which indigenous poetry may find hard to claim.

The truth is, indigenous poetry in its present manifestations and transformations, its capability to take up the life-and-death concerns of the communities, its collective power for education and mobilization, is very much a part of c-o-n-t-e-m-p-o-r-a-r-y ( "existing, occurring, or living at the same time; belonging to the same time") poetry. This category is so large, varied, multi-languaged, and inclusive that it makes no critical sense, unless one is doing a survey of all available poetic texts and non-texts (oral) created at a specific time and place and defining their political and cultural implications.

Indigenous poetry is not 'linked' to contemporary poetry; it is part and parcel of contemporary poetry in so far as its present manifestations are responsive to the demands and pressures of the time. On the other hand, much of the so-called modern poetry today, whether in English or any of the other languages in the country, may not at all fall under this category, considering that it is no more than a simulacrum of the most effete poetry in the high capitalist world on fire, with no connection at all to our basket case of a society except where it rehashes the most retrogressive feelings and ideas so dearly endorsed by cultural managers and canon-makers in literature.

[1] Allison Adelle Hedge Coke, "Ahani: Indigenous American Poetry," To Topos: Poetry International, Volume 9 (2007): 9-10.

Indigenous Peoples' Literature Return to Indigenous Peoples' Literature

Compiled by: Glenn Welker

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