Form and Content
Leslie Marmon Silko is of mixed ancestry—American Indian, Mexican, and white—but she grew up in Laguna Pueblo in New Mexico, and the title of Laguna Woman, her first book, announces not only her sense of her American Indian identity but also the persona and the cultural perspective of the voice that is heard throughout this collection of eighteen short poems. The poems can be appreciated for their unpretentious use of ordinary language to achieve striking and memorable scenic effects; for the conciseness of their form, which is firmly anchored in the free-verse and imagistic tradition of modernist verse; and for the precision of their images.
Because of Silko’s frequent mention of specific places and dependence on allusions to cultural assumptions and oral traditions of storytelling with which many readers may be unfamiliar, appreciation of the content of the poems is considerably less direct and immediate than appreciation of their form. Knowledge of the geography of the American Southwest and of its indigenous cultures, however, especially the Laguna and Navajo cultures from which the poems spring and to which they constantly refer, reveals layers and complexities of meaning that are belied by the simplicity of the poems’ form.
Among those features of Laguna culture that are most relevant to an understanding of Laguna Woman are its strong sense of continually being in the presence of spirits, its belief in the primacy of tribal rather than individual welfare and survival, its belief in the...
(The entire section is 630 words.)