Launch of Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England

Here’s a photograph of all the native authors who attended the launch party for Dawnland Voices: An Anthology of Indigenous Writing from New England.  Hosted by the University of New Hampshire at Durham, I will say for myself that it was a splendid evening – an event I will always remember!  I finally got to meet Daniel N. Paul (third from left, seated) and Jaime Battiste, (first at left, standing).  We were the Mi’kmaw contingent out of ten other tribal voices.  It was so good to meet Cheryl Savageau (second in from the right seated), Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, (far right, seated), Mihku Paul (7th from left in middle row – white shirt, long hair), Carol Bachnofner  (to the right of Mihku), Lisa Brooks (back row black & white blouse), and Jesse Bruchac (last to the right, back row).  Paula Peters (next to Jaime) has become my new friend.  I regretted that Steven Augustine, Marie Battiste, James Sakej Youngblood Henderson, Susanne Rancourt, Joe, Marge and Jim Bruchac, Trudie Lamb Richmond, Jayne Fawcett, and Robert Peters were not in attendance.  And I believe all the departed ones – Rita Joe, Lorne Simon, Sopiel Soctomah, Chief Francis Joseph Neptune, Tomah Joseph, Deacon Sockabasin, Joseph Stanislaus, Sopiel SElmore, Lewis Mitchell, Sylvia Gabriel, Peter Mitchell, Mary Ellen Stevens Socobasin, Joseph Nicolaaar, Molly Spotted Elk, Wowaus, Samson Occum and the others – rejoiced with us this past Saturday night, November 1, 2014.  We carry their words and add our own, all known to each other and all very much unvanished!

This anthology is available from the University of Nebraska Press.  Siobhan Senier is the editor and she had assistance from ten tribal editors in choosing the selections.  Bravo!  This is an historic work!  An historic occasion!

Photo by Katie Liljegren

 

Worn Cities–My New Poetry Collection

My new poetry collection–Worn Cities–will be coming out this fall.  If you place your order during the pre-publishing period (up to July 25), shipping is only $2.99 for the first copy and $1.99 for each additional copy.  If you’ve already ordered Worn Cities, my sincere thanks.

Azure_Alice_CovThe cover art is my own photo from early 1980 of the Munjoy Hill area in Portland, Maine.  In spite of intense gentrification, today Bruni’s Market still stands.  Here are a few lines from the title poem in the collection:

In the sun-salted air of DiMillo’s on the waterfront,
I chatter and carry on about poetry
with Cheryl, Siobhan and Carol.
Lobster-roll juices dribble down my chin,
stain my aqua-blue, designer print blouse.
It doesn’t matter.  I am happy
in my city by the sea.

______________________________________________________________________________

Purchase Worn Cities

Enjoy!

To order by mail, send a check or money order for $12.00 plus $2.99 for shipping t0
Finishing Line Press, P. O. Box 1626, Georgetown, KY 40324.

Wonderful News

Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers selected my book–Games of Transformation–as the poetry book of the year.  I haven’t stopped smiling since the news came to me a few weeks ago.  Nothing beats recognition from one’s peers.  The award ceremony will be Friday evening, September 7, in Milwaukee, Wisconsin at Wordcraft’s annual festival, Returning the Gift, September 4th through the 9th.  Here are a few more honorees:

  • Kim Blaeser, Drama for Museum at Red Earth;
  • Geary Hobson, Fiction for Plain of Jars and Other Stories;
  • Lois Red Elk, Non-fiction for Our Blood Remembers;
  • Allison Hedge Coke, Editor of the Year for Sing: Poetry for the Indigenous Americas; and
  • Dianne Glancy, Film for Dome of Heaven;

On Saturday and Sunday, I will be reading with some of these illustrious poets, including Rain Gomez, Denise Sweet and Denise Low.  The last two are former Poet Laureates from Wisconsin and Kansas, respectively.  As I will be rooming with the two Denise’s, don’t be surprised if the hotel’s roof might lift away from its moorings with so much poetry passion!

Visit either Facebook at Returning the Gift National Native Writers and Storytellers Conference 2012 or  www.Yukhika-latuhse.org  for more information about this fantastic writer’s conference.  The Oneida Nation’s art journal, Yukhika-latuhse, is the co-sponsor of this year’s Returning the Gift Festival.

For more information about Games of Transformation, scroll down a ways to my November 10, 2011 post.  Finally, I want to thank Albatross Press and its editor and publisher, Terry Straus and Michael Brehm, for their belief in and support of my creative work.  This has meant the world to me.

Narragansett Dark—A Poem by Norah Pollard

During the six years I lived in southeastern Connecticut, I always enjoyed the paintings, music and poetry readings at Arts-Cafe Mystic.  May 16, 2003, I remember my delight as I listened to Norah Pollard read poems from her newly published book, Leaning In.  In addition to being a gifted writer, she is the daughter of jockey Red Pollard, who rode Seabiscuit  (dubbed the “People’s Champion) to fame during the dark years of the Great Depression.

As she read poem after poem, interspersing humor and emotion throughout her readings, I fell in love with “Narragansett Dark.”  Why am I deeply touched by this poem?  Undoubtedly, Nora’s story is connected to a great American saga–a young, defiant Canadian jockey (Red Pollard), an unorthodox horse trainer (Tom S. Smith), a wealthy rancher-entrepreneur (Charles Howard) and a little rambunctious bay.  Together, these four gave our country needed relief from the deadening loss of jobs and hope that characterized the Great Depression.  Above all–it is the horse that makes this saga so special.  An animal!  That’s so wonderful to me, the innate greatness of Seabiscuit.

Secondly, Nora Pollard was more than the daughter of a great jockey.  Like her well-read father, she was a lover of poetry and stories–and animals.  Listen to the craft of her lines and words in this poem–especially in the fifth stanza:

Narragansett Dark

(for my father)

They led the horses away.
They tore down the fences.
The wrecking ball brought down
the grandstand, the clubhouse.
They plowed under the track kitchen,
the tack shop, the bettors’ windows.
The burned the green barns.

When there was nothing of Narragansett
but a great empty space, the moon
glittered over it like a Vegas sign
and the wind blew dust across
900 acres to the Newport-Armistice roads.
The next day they paved.

Black asphalt covered the scent
of hay and the horse.
They built a drugstore,
a store for linoleum, and they
threw up subdivisions, aqua and mustard
and pink, whose mailboxes rusted
before they were sold.
Then they built a nursing home

where now the old jockey lay in a narrow bed.
He did not know where he was
so the irony was lost to him,
but he knew his wife would come
and wash him and light his cigarette
and put the swatches of cotton
between his toes and pour him
a small cup of blackberry brandy.
Long nights alone, after the t.v. was
shut off and the brandy was gone,
he’d listen for something.
All the long nights, listening.

One night a lean March wind
rattled the gate and his heart labored
in his breast and he rose up
for he heard what he heard–
their soft nickering and blowing, the thin
rustle of silks, the creak
of saddle and the tick
of hoof on stone.

And he left the bed and went out
to where they stood in the grasses.
He stood before them and
their breath fell on him like a cloud
and he saw their great eyes pool the moon.
And the one waiting for him,
the one with an empty saddle,
was the bay.

He mounted up and they rode under the moon
and the wind flared the mane of his horse
and was hard and clean on his face.
The others galloped on either side, silently,
as if they were running on moss or flowers,
and he went with them where they took him
into the fields of night.

[hr]

Since publishing Leaning In, Pollard has published Death & Rapture in the Animal Kingdom(2005) and Report from the Banana Hospital (2009).  Atrim House Books in Simsbury, Connecticut publishes her work.  Pollard edited The Connecticut River Review for several years and received the Academy of American Poets Prize from the University of Bridgeport.

[hr_invisible]

Native Moons, Native Days Carol Bachofner’s New Book of Poetry

Recently released by Bowman Books, this is the seventh volume in The Native New England Authors Series.  There are several reasons why I love these poems.  First, the majority (nearly two-thirds) of the 65 poems contains an Abenaki word or phrase–the poet’s native language.   While it’s hard to pick one from amongst words that I hardly can pronounce–the poem “Wlowatawak” caught my attention, being about a grandmother who “left tribal stories / told over cups blue tea,”  tea made from the plants and flowers of the woods.  Carol follows a long tradition of Native authors who use their own tribal words in songs, poetry and stories.
[hr_invisible]
The wonder of it all is that New England tribal languages are being–and have been–pulled from the brink of extinction.  Jesse Bruchac, one person responsible for this revitalization, published a poem in 1996 (Reclaiming the Vision: Native Voices for the Eighth Generation), titled “Green Corn Song,” echoing every English line with a recurring line in Abenaki. What a privilege it would be to hear these ancient Abenaki words spoken by the poets themselves! Another reason I am drawn to these poems is that the tribal perspective and landscape are known to me–for my own tribe, the Mi’kmaq, are part of the same cultural group as Carol’s.  Much of her world is familiar to me, especially “Pond Water,” which “will always call to you / will always know when you return.”  I learned to swim and ice skate on a little lovely pond in Cromwell, Connecticut.
[hr_invisible]
The poem,”Land Sickness” particularly hit home, as I more often than not have lived in land-locked places, like Carol: “I have no salt spray for my hair, no chill / gray sand between my feet. I am bereft / of crisp ocean kisses and wild seaweed.”  When Carol asked me to compose a few testimonial lines for the back cover–I did so on the basis of one poem–“Zogwawon” (face paint), for its universal longing in these times of war:
          I paint my face, double curves
          on each cheek and across the brow.
          I choose the colors of war, red and black,
          kelegatsta, each stripe a memory of some wrong.
          I want yellow for the dawn, for peace.
          Bring trickster clowns to shake their rattles,
          no more baskhodebahiganal to break the heads
          of our enemies. No more shouts of insult.
[hr]

Available at www.nativeauthors.com.

My New Book of Poetry

[quote]It is a pleasure to have these poems from Alice Azure. They tell stories that bring alive for us the Old Ones of Cahokia Mounds, and the New Ones of her own family and tribal people. It is good to hear them and I am grateful to her for sharing them with us.[/quote]
—Carter Revard, Osage Poet
[hr_invisible]
This past March 2011, Albatross Press in Chicago released my book of poem about Cahokia Mounds.  A United Nations World Heritage Site on a par with the pyramids of Egypt, the Grand Canyon and the Great Wall of China, the mounds were once North America’s largest pre-historic city.  They are located in Collinsville, just a few miles from where I live.With many thanks to my editor, Terry Straus, and to the book’s designer, Michael Brehm, it gives me much pleasure to present it to readers of this blog.  During the extensive research I undertook in preparation for this work, I came across many archaeological scholars who dedicated their lives to understanding Cahokia. In particular, Robert Hall’s An Archaeology of the Soul  captured my attention.  Of Native Stockbridge/Mohican ancestry himself, his underlying premise within this marvelous book seems to say there is a great spiritual connectedness among the ancient ceremonies and practices of the aboriginal inhabitants of America’s Midwest and Plains.  When I expressed to Terry Straus my delight with Dr. Halls work, things began to happen.  One thing led to another and I found myself on the phone asking Dr. Hall if he would consider writing an introduction to my book.  After looking over the manuscript, here is what he wrote:
[hr_invisible]
 ****
[hr_invisible]
      There are places that exist in myth that have left no ruins to direct a pilgrim’s feet. There are places that exist as ruins that have left no myths to tell their story. Cahokia is one of these — ancient Cahokia, prehistoric Cahokia on the Illinois bottomlands of the Mississippi River — a planned community of urban proportions. Over a hundred earthen mounds dot Cahokia’s landscape, most of them marking where a temple or elite residence once stood.
[hr_invisible]
     Considering its size and onetime importance, it defies belief that Cahokia has left no memory of itself among native peoples of the Midwest, yet, that is the case. Most of what is known of Cahokia comes from what archaeologists can find with shovels and trowels. Stains in the earth trace the paths of massive palisade walls that once enclosed the Grand Plaza fronting on the Great Cahokia Mound and the mound itself, Monks Mound so called from an incident in its later history. Other stains trace the outlines of dwellings and temples reduced by time to mere discolorations in the soil. Some stains define monumental post circles that were material expressions of a cosmology that we can only guess at. These things are visible to the archaeologist, but there is more visible only to the poet’s eye.
[hr_invisible]
     Alice Azure lives behind the bluff line that defines Cahokia’s eastern horizon. Seven, eight, nine hundred years ago, a thousand years ago, Cahokia priests surely greeted the sun as it rose above that horizon. In Quotidian Dimensions the poet Alice backs away from priestly exultations in favor of the canine choruses that just as surely began Cahokia’s days. “Was this how old Cahokia awakened?” she asks, then describes the everyday life that must have filled those days.
[hr_invisible]
     In Cahokia at Dusk the poet Alice reverses the Cahokian view, looking west from the bluff toward the sun’s setting. As daylight fades, dancers appear that only she can see. Drummers time beats that only she can hear. The Grand Plaza comes alive and Alice shares with us her vision of that scene.
[hr_invisible]
     Cahokia Mound 72 deftly weaves together scenes of the human sacrifices whose bones fill that mound with scenes of the senseless slaughters that provide today’s headlines. Like Cahokia Mound 72Horseradish Blues makes a comparison that spans a millennium. It contrasts ancient Cahokia as the City of the Sun with the latter-day importance of the area for cultivating horseradish, a comparison of the sacred with the profane symbolizing the descent of Cahokia from its prehistoric grandeur. Cahokia’s crop was corn, sacred to Cahokians as it still is for so many Native Americans. Horseradish is a condiment that bites the tongue but cannot stir the soul.
[hr_invisible]
     Helping to shape Alice Azure’s image of Cahokia was a muse, if that be the right word, in the form of a spirit being she calls Red Cedar. The centuries shrink as Red Cedar speaks. Less ethereal in influencing Azure’s interest in Cahokia has been her own training in urban and regional planning. Happy the coincidence that a Native American poet with such experience should find herself living within the bounds of the greater Cahokia community. Even so, in this collection of poems Cahokia is but one of many stages on which characters from Azure’s background make a curtain call — a Maine vegetable garden, a Meskwakie powwow,  church schools, a football field, more. Most of her poems are very personal, and this infusion of the personal binds the collection into a whole.
[hr_invisible]
 ****
[hr_invisible]
Dr. Hall’s introduction to my little book of Cahokia poems is a special gift.  I will always treasure his kind words here and his awesome insights to American Indian spirituality as expressed in An Archaeology of the Soul.
Dr. Hall’s book is available at the Cahokia Mounds, giftshop@cahokiamounds.org.
[hr]

Available at the Cahokia Mounds giftshop as well as www.nativeauthors.comwww.amazon.com and at www.stlbooks.com.

[hr_invisible]

St. Louis’s Firecracker Press – Wow!

I composed the poem, “Diamond Time,” to honor my sister Carol’s 70th birthday on October 27.  Thinking that it might look good made into a broadside (a type of poster) suitable for framing, I visited Firecracker Press on Cherokee Street in St. Louis.  Matty Kleinberg, the shop manager, came up with a design.  I could hardly wait for the work to be finished.  When Matty called, saying that the broadside was ready, I nearly flew over the Mississippi River.  The result is the image to the left—its dimensions about 8 ½ inches wide by 19 inches tall.  Needless to say, I was delighted with the outcome!  And what’s more important, my sister called today expressing her pleasure.  Happy birthday to a beautiful woman!  And if any of you who are reading this blog happen to be in St. Louis, stop in at 2838 Cherokee Street to see all the staff’s wonderful creations just exploding off the walls and out the door!
[hr]

Visit their website at www.firecrackerpress.com. I can’t wait to have some business cards printed.
[hr_invisible]

Cheryl Savageau’s Book of Jewels

Like her previous poetry collection, Dirt Road Home (Curbstone Press: Willimantic, CT), Abenaki poet Cheryl Savageau’s Mother/Land (Salt Publishing: Cambridge, UK) is a work to which I return often, whether late at night before sleep or during a quiet time in the day.  Always, delight comes in my rereading of her work.  This used to be surprising to me, for there are few poets whose works consistently lure me to the page.  Rather, I seem to be one that gravitates to different talismans (Molly Peacock’s term for treasured poems) composed by a variety of poets.
[hr_invisible]
Savageau was my first poetry teacher.  I came to know her in 1994 through Wordcraft Circle of Native Writers and Storytellers.  In those years, new poets were matched with professional poets, both having the same or similar tribal backgrounds if possible.  I lucked out, and thrived under her mentorship for two years.  I remember once asking her, “Is producing one poem a month a good goal?”  Her reply was “I’d rather aim for one good poem in a year—a really good poem!”
[hr_invisible]
Beyond my good fortune to have had Savageau as a mentor and that we share a similar legacy from the early French and Wabanaki interactions in the northeast Maritimes, I want to point out some other reasons why I regard her poems as jewels.
[hr_invisible]
It was the way she put together her words, lines and images that first captured my attention.  Pure clarity!  Not simplicity or easy access—but clear vision and disciplined articulation with little fanfare.  Jim Northrup’s syndicated columns in News from Indian Country and all of Robert Conley’s works exemplify this clean, sparse way of writing and storytelling.
[hr_invisible]
 Consider the way Savageau describes the importance of a huge swath of our northeastern ocean in “The Grand Banks.”  Reading the poem aloud, there is much activity of the tongue, to use a phrase in the introduction to the anthology, From the Fishhouse(Persea Books: New York, 2009, p. xx).  Starting out with short lines of few stresses,
                        this great underwater plateau
                        this dinner table for fish,
[hr_invisible]
she quickly extends later lines to almost a prose poem,
                        this feasting place where haddock and cod
                        gather like buffalo, their numbers too great to imagine
[hr_invisible]
and finishes with
[hr_invisible]
                                                                                             …Whales come
                        from the warm waters of the south to raise their young here
                                                           …filling the waters with a song that can be
                        heard for a thousand miles, more.  Ocean is their word for world.
[hr_invisible]
To me, this poem is a wonderful confluence of sounds, sense and meaning, to quote again the editors of From the Fishhouse (xxi).
[hr_invisible]
                        In another poem, “Cod,” Savageau shows us how the European’s realization that the Wabanaki people’s method of drying then smoking cod was commercially more viable than
                        [Filling] the ships
                        salting the fish
                        down in barrels,
                        til the hull is full.
[hr_invisible]
Soon the French needed a land base.  Then the poet starts to pull in her lines, ending the poem with terse, nearly all single-syllable words mixed with hard consonants:
[hr_invisible]
                        dreams
                        of cod
                        the gold
                        of the sea
                        that will
                        fill their bellies
                        and their
                        pockets
[hr_invisible]
Her poetic brilliance—the mix of humor, history, family stories and recast old Wabanaki stories—are other reasons I keep returning to Savageau’s poems.  I get tickled funny with how she can give a light twist to a poem like in “Mendel’s Milkmen.” When some nuns comment about how all of Savageau’s brothers and sisters don’t look alike, and the poet remembers that
                        a great-grandfather’s
                        eyes can lay hidden for
                        generations then
                        flash in a newborn’s face
[hr_invisible]
The poet’s mother is then reported to say
[hr_invisible]
                        different milkmen, sisters
                        different milkmen.
[hr_invisible]
Another poem, “Genealogy,” (from Dirt Road Home, p. 80) gives a clever, but a more poignant turn to its last lines:
                        Her maiden name
                        she always told me was
                        LaForte, the strong,
                        but now I find it Lafford,
                        as in a place to cross rivers
                        as in having to pay the price
                        of a crossing
[hr_invisible]
            Savageau’s list poems are a delight to read.  She challenged me once to compose a few, but I got very discouraged, never being able to approach the simple elegance of “What I Save” (in Dirt Road Home, p61) or “The Liar” in Mother/Land.  It is this kind of poem as woven by Savageau that gives me—to paraphrase Molly Peacock—much pleasure and where I involuntarily, but happily begin to engage my senses and intellect (How to Read a Poem and Start a Poetry Circle, Riverhead Books: New York, 1999, p. 4).   That last stanza of her end poem in Mother/Land is, to me, one of the most beautiful in her collection, a talisman of such clarity and brilliance that leaves me breathing “Oh!” in pure joy:
I will knit a spider web beaded with
blueberries, I will knit a bed of corn silk
I will knit prayers of smoke I will knit coverlets of
cricket song pillows of milkweed down
scarves from the long howls of coyotes
I will knit embraces of warm spring rains
sweaters of squash blossoms I will knit
whatever we need my fingers
will never be still

[hr_invisible]

My Latest Book

[quote ]I have read this manuscript and it is great. I like the way Alice Azure frames her life experiences and her family, how she looks to the Mi’kmaq and Acadian collaborations in the past and how her life is entwined in this. Her reconnection to the Métis of Nova Scotia is well written. I was touched by her story. [/quote]

—Stephen J. Augustine, Hereditary Chief, Mi’kmaq Grand Council Curator of Ethnology, Eastern Maritimes, Canadian Museum of Civilization
[hr_invisible]
[quote]Along Came a Spider is an account of a search for self-knowledge that evolves into a search for community. Her guide, Grandmother Spider, has the first word in every chapter, goading Alice to write her story. Her journey in time and place is spiritual as much geographic, and her spirituality spans Native American tradition to C.S. Lewis. The book is meticulous and learned but never pretentious.[/quote]
—Mary Ruth Donnelly, author of Weaving the Light and Tomb Figure
President, St. Louis Poetry Center
[hr_invisible]
[quote]This is a vital contribution to contemporary Native American literature. Already highly regarded for her poetry, Alice Azure proves to be a captivating storyteller, weaving together personal narrative, her own voracious reading and research, and vivid re-imaginings of the people—and spirits–who led her back to her Mi’kmaq heritage.[/quote]
—Siobhan Senier, Associate Professor, English 
University of New Hampshire
[hr_invisible]
[quote]Azure carries the reader right along on her Grandmother Spider’s back, during this journey to find her Native place within the cloaked web of Canadian genealogy and indigenous heritage. The spider, who serves as her reader’s guide, adds the most brilliant filaments to this truthful tale of love, loss, mistakes, and miracles, leading to wholeness and understanding. [/quote]

—Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel, Mohegan Medicine Woman, author of the novels, Fire Hollow and Oracles

[hr]

Available at the Cahokia Mounds giftshop,  www.Native Authors, www.Amazon.com  (for author, type in “Alice Azure”) or by calling 618-344-9221.