14 Possibilities of Native Poetry
A statistic I feel is important to share in my work whenever I can: native or indigenous peoples were once one-hundred percent of the population of what is now America, and we have been reduced to less than one percent of the American population today. This might give Americans the impression that we don’t exist, or we are fading, or we are not strong. The opposites are true. The peoples who are indigenous to the land before America are very much alive and electric. We are creative and contributing to the beauty and narrative of what this country becomes. With this in mind, it is my joy to share with you the work of fourteen native poets. I am grateful for the space Connotation Press has offered to us. These poets are a small piece of the exciting work being built in the world of native poetry.
What is Native poetry? is a question worth asking, but one I think should never be answered. Every time the question is asked, I imagine the landscape of native poetry changes, grows, even a little—some field becomes wider and its blooms larger, a mountain lifts higher, a stand of spruce burst up, new sandstone formations are made where it once was flat, where there was no passage in a canyon a passage is found, where there was no water a river is loosed. Asking the question, What is Native poetry? means there can be infinite possibilities, infinite poets and their infinite poems who might be an answer. It is only when we answer this question, when we try to define what a native poet should be writing, what a native poet shouldn’t be writing, which native poets can write, which cannot write, that we begin to get smaller, that we silence the voices of our own possibility.
The fourteen poets I am sharing with you here are all possible answers to the question. Some were born on reservations or in ancestral lands, some still live on those lands; some were born in the city, far from their homelands and indigenous communities; some have MFAs; some speak their native language, and some do not; some speak and even teach languages other than English and other than their native language; some are musicians or spoken word artists; a few have braids; some work for their tribes; some live in cities; some live outside of America. They are many things, and they are also native poets. The only answer we need for this feature is: These poets, who are also native, wrote what they wrote, and because they wrote it, it is native poetry.
It is with luck and love I share with you the following native poets: Sammie Bordeaux-Seeger, Jake Skeets, Kateri Menominee, Michaelsun Stonesweat Knapp, Tommy Pico, Monique Sanchez, Pagie Buffington, Frank Waln, Michael Wasson, Franklin K.R. Cline, Celeste Adame, b: william bearhart, Millissa Kingbird, and Tanaya Winder.