Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1269
In Claiming Breath (1992), Diane Glancy prefaces her compilation by stating, “I often write about being in the middle ground between two cultures, not fully a part of either. I write with a split voice, often experimenting with language until the parts equal some sort of whole.” The voice of Glancy’s poetry has been sculpted by her experience living in the different cultures of her Cherokee and English-German heritage. Considering this element of her voice, it is no surprise that Glancy cites Mikhail Bakhtin, author of Problemy poetiki Dostoevskogo (1963; Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics, 1973, 1984) as being a major influence on her work. Bakhtin’s use of “multiple borders” and “multiple narrators,” which are important elements in Native American storytelling, has shaped Glancy’s ability to weave together different cultures in both narrative and descriptive senses. Through her poetry, Glancy is able to manipulate these aspects of borderlands to create a sense of fragmentation that mirrors the disintegration of Native American culture, often achieved through her use of abrupt, shifting language structures.
In her poetry, Glancy confronts an array of sometimes disconcerting subject matter, such as divorce, middle age, death, and the effects of the modern world on Native American culture. In her interview with Andrews, she says that to understand Native American literature, readers need to “listen and let [the authors] talk and tell you. That’s what all of Native literature is in the process of doing.” Glancy says that of the Native American authors she knows, each, through his or her writings, explicates a personal stance on being Native American. Listening to these voices has ultimately influenced Glancy’s ability to wed her Native American spiritual traditions with Christianity, another borderland in which Glancy lives. She often credits the Bible, with its many viewpoints and narrators, as being advantageous to her construction of borderlands through language.
The concept of memory plays a pivotal role in the composition of Glancy’s poetry. Glancy has stated that people carry a “racial,” “generational” memory and that she has confronted this aspect of memory when writing about her Cherokee lineage. Using memory, she is able to fracture and engineer the language of her poetry. After locating her own Native American voice and coping with disrespect, Glancy was able to find humor and irony through writing; these are two important constituents of Native American storytelling and writing.
Asylum in the Grasslands
Asylum in the Grasslands (first printed in 1998, with a revised edition in 2007) elucidates the history of the Cherokee largely through the destruction of its culture through the loss of family structures and its native language. Glancy develops the theme of memory in an imagistic sense by fashioning a feeling of eradication perceived by her ancestors but brought into the contemporary world.
“Boarding School for Indian Women” illuminates Glancy’s propensity for mixing her Christian roots with Native American spirituality, and it also explores the erasure of the Cherokee in America. Glancy describes the Indian women studying Christ at a government boarding school, who learn how “his blood ran out and we are healed.” However, because of her culture’s erasure, “there are times, even with Christ I am not happy.” Glancy has said that the concepts of fatality and blood are integral parts of the Cherokee culture, specifically through realms of existence and native spirituality. Because Glancy feels that life comes “from blood—from the cattle, from the corn, and from Christ,” she fuses Christianity with the removal of Cherokee culture, often using the land as a resource to express this sentiment. With a crisp frankness, Glancy describes the remnants of the Cherokee world as being “left with this shadow of our making.”
In “Meatloaf,” Glancy uses Cherokee spirituality to illustrate the importance of family, specifically her great-grandmother, who was pure Cherokee. In the past, Glancy has explained that she likes to investigate the “cross-cultured” language spoken by her grandmother, and “Meatloaf” posits the question “How do I tell her even the/ words of her Cherokee language do not survive?” Nevertheless, the poem presents a spiritual bond significant to Cherokee culture that is nourished even when the native language is disappearing.
The Relief of America
In The Relief of America, which accentuates Glancy’s ability to create skillful witticisms, she implements a calculated use of spacing and capitalization to enhance the idea of the borderland. The first poem, “Christopher,” emphasizes Glancy’s predilection for colloquial language. She imagines the Native Americans’ reactions on seeing Christopher Columbus, “Thar go Christopher. Huf. Huf./ Wid gold he own t’ segund urth./ Wid gold he buy our souls inter heaben.” Starting from Columbus’s discovery of the New World, Glancy creates a sense of invasion, a stripping away of Native American culture that expresses a loss of both society and land, a theme underlined in this collection. In her interview with Andrews, Glancy explained, “Land has a memory, too. I think the land has got a sharper memory than we do . . . the land had to give me permission to write.” Through this volume, Glancy generates a sense of land desiring the company of Native Americans.
“Relief” conveys the intrusion of the white man on Native American tradition. Glancy questions the cultural implementations that ultimately destroyed the native world: “Will it be all right/ after our throats’re sprayed with merthiolate,/ arms jabbed with penicillin,/ will we rise up then and be healed?” This aspect of her poetry is indicative of Glancy’s terse candor in describing the harm done to the Cherokee, acquainting the modern world with some of the darker elements of American history. In “Oklahoma Land Run,” Glancy intertwines dramatic elements such as stage directions with her poetry, quite fitting in consideration of her Sundance Screenwriting Fellowship. Glancy reenacts the disappearance of native culture, incorporating herself as narrator into the stage directions, an unusual, yet appealing, element of the poem.
Glancy opens Iron Woman by writing, “I keep thinking why bother with my Native American heritage. What does it matter? Let it go.” Of course, the intent of Iron Woman is to communicate that she cannot let go, that her mixed-blood heritage should be illuminated. This collection of poetry was dedicated to the statue after which it was named, an Isamu Noguchi monument housed at Macalester College that also appears on the cover of this collection. The title poem explores what is left of a largely demolished culture. “Iron Woman” is different, however, from earlier poems in that it comments on a sense of feminism also present in Claiming Breath. Glancy feels that “a woman’s voice is very powerful and very strong,” especially in terms of Native American culture; native women are thought to be the “bearers” of their culture, “the storyteller,” according to Glancy. “Iron Woman” ends with “It takes a while to speak with these two voices/ as it takes a while to walk on two feet/ each one going the other way,” which comments on the borderland of Native American woman, another margin in which Glancy resides.
Rooms is a selection of new poems and poems gathered from Glancy’s previously published volumes. The title is taken from the Ames Room, a distorted room built by opthalmologist Adelbert Ames, Jr., in 1946. Although the room is not a normal cubic room, the eyes perceive it to be one. Rooms thus refers to the spaces of memory and the distortions of perception. It also is the title of the last section of the volume, which contains the new works. Most of the poems were written between 1984 and 2004, and thus this volume presents an overview of Glancy’s work.