Birthday Post – July 30, 2014

Today is my birthday, and I must say it has been a good year as far as getting my poetry published.  My newest chapbook, Worn Cities, attracted eighty pre-orders, enough for the publishers, Finishing Line Press, to proceed with a press run of 250 copies!  I am grateful to all my supporters who ordered copies, which will be shipped September 6th, 2014.

My poems have appeared in Cream City Review, About Place Journal,  and Yellow Medicine Review.   Of particular pleasure for me has been the release of Dawnland Voices (University of Nebraska Press), edited by Siobhan Senier.  It is an anthology of indigenous writing from New England tribal authors, including Mi’kmaw, Maliseet, Passamaquoddy, Penobscot, Abenaki, Nipmuc, Wampanoag, Mohegan, Narragansett and Schaghticoke people. Each of the tribal sections contains an introduction  by a tribal community editor that assisted Siobhan in collecting and choosing the pieces showcased.

SiobhanImage

Many of the authors I know personally or through correspondence.  Some I have showcased  on this site – Mihku Paul, Carol Bachofner, Cheryl Savageau and Siobhan Senier, the indefatigable editor!  In the Mi’kmaw section, I found myself loving Elsie Charles Basque’s story, “From Here to There,” where she recounts traveling alone with children from Saunierville, Nova Scotia to Willimantic, Connecticut, a place where my own mother had lived awhile.  There’s an excerpt of the late Lorne Simon’s wonderful novel, Stones and Switches.   James Sakej Youngblood, Jaime Battiste (father and son) outlined the basis of our Mi’kmaw treaties –underscored by an excellent essay by Grand Chief Donald Marshall Sr.,  Grand Captain Alexander Denny, and Putus (wisdom) Simon Marshall.

My entries included three poems – “Repatriation Soliloquy,” “Mi’kmaq Haiku,” and “Someday I Will Dance,” a personal favorite. Poems of the beloved poet, Rita Joe, are included and of course, Daniel Paul, our reknown activist, has an included section from his hard-hitting book, We Were Not the Savages.  As Joe Bruchac says, “…this is a brilliantly edited anthology.

If you want to order Dawnland Voices online, check out this link to learn more.

Even Dawnland Voices could not trump the best news of this birthday year: I found out the name of my biological fourth great grandmother–the one of whom I wrote in my May 7, 2013 post, listed below in the archives of this website.  Her name was (is) Marie LeBlanc Mius.  She had twin daughters, Marguerite and Madeleine Magdalene, born Mius – but taken in by another family, the Babin’s.  Marguerite became my third great grandmother.  There’s a story behind this “adoption,” believe me – but it’s for another time.  A cousin whom I found through autosomal DNA testing, Edward Cyr, helped me find her. I will never forget the enormous burden of obsession that rolled off my shoulders when Ed said, “You’ve found Her! You’ve found your grandmother.”  Not many people can boast of two family trees – double sets of relatives on down to the pre-colonial period of Nova Scotia.  I am thankful. In a future post, I will share a poem I wrote for Grandmother Marie.

Mihku Paul’s New Poetry Book, 20th Century Powwow Playland

In an interview by Lisa Panepinto (“Renewing Images: Mihku Paul Interview,” River Pine Anthology of Civic Discourse, September 14, 2012), Mihku tells about a summer she attended a Sun Dance ceremony in North Dakota.  A deer had been killed so that there would be food for the celebrants.  However, no one knew how to cut up the animal’s body for cooking.  Having often helped her mother and grandfather skin and dress out animals for sportsmen who hunted around the Old Town area of Maine, Mihku knew how to butcher a deer.  At first she held back from volunteering.  Not only was it miserably hot and humid, but water was not readily available.  In the end, she persuaded herself to take charge of that deer.

Some of the poems in 20th Century Powwow Playland are like the chunks of deer meat that Mihku exposed that day in North Dakota.  Using the tools of her poetic craft, she masterfully hones sounds, verbs, images, rhythm and lines to cut open the skin (a word she uses often) of a latent colonization, revealing vicious racism, violence, poverty, anomie—all of which her family has had to endure in central Maine.

In the poem “Piecework,” she describes women who work out of their home, doing piecework for a shoe factory.  For Pauline, “complaining is her vocation, sex her currency / children are a thorn in her side / [she] …leaves to fend for themselves/ like feral kittens.” Another, Millie, has eyes that are “bloodshot” and which “…broadcast /a flag of surrender.” Pale Antoinette “shifts her generous flesh / shakes the bench and rises. / She makes more coffee, smokes another Camel.”  Mihku’s mother’s “…hands twist the awl, stacks the pieces, / until she must stop / fearful of ruining work / creased palms cracked and bleeding.”

A poem I like for its rich language and images is “Undertow.”  She talks about a drunk, a man named Froggy who drowned in the Penobscot River which rings the reservation, called Indian Island.  She then mentions her brother, who was also drinking at the time, and how he found another drowned body, a “…snagged / limp form of a boy his own age.”  She concludes the poem with a haunting, lyrical question:

Do ghosts whisper psalms in

the flooded branches of trees,

sing strange hymns beneath the ice, to

their next of kin, those newly arrived souls,

claimed by this river inside us?

Another poem caught my attention for the way Mihku created a sense of fear as well as promise.  In “Return,” everyone and everything is groaning in the sometimes stormy, sometimes moonlit dark—the earth, Mt. Katahdin, great pines, and a bear (Muin), with whom she travels.  He teaches her “…to welcome velvet dark / guided by the moon’s shape-shifted spark.”  Then, says the poet, “a steady warmth flowed gently up my spine, / Katahdin’s song rose up from granite stone.”

I am glad to have had the privilege of spending time with Mihku during the recent Returning the Gift Festival in Milwaukee, September 4 -9.  There, her spark and confidence were unmistakable, especially during a slam poetry competition, in which she won second place.  It was then I had a strong feeling that my Maliseet friend, with her wonderful sense of language, sound and images, was well on her way to becoming one of the most important poets to emerge out of New England.  I look forward to her next oeuvre!

20th Century Powwow Playland is available through http://:nativeauthors.com. Mikhu’s website is http://mihkupaul.com.

© by Alice M. Azure, November 2012.