(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

The opening and closing poems in Skins and Bones offer a useful framework for interpreting the entire volume. The first piece, “C’koy’u, Old Woman,” introduces the cosmic feminine creative power informing Allen’s holistic worldview. This sixteen-line poem, which could be described as a twentieth century version of traditional American Indian creation songs, provides the basis for several recurring themes: the interconnections between natural and supernatural life explored in “Arousings,” “Sightings I: Muskogee Tradition,” and “Sightings II”; the desire for renewal expressed in “Teaching Poetry at Votech High, Santa Fe, the Week John Lennon Was Shot,” “Grandma’s Dying Poem,” and “Something Fragile, Broken”; and an intricate pattern of continuity and change developed in “Molly Brant, Iroquois Matron, Speaks,” “Taku Skanskan,” and “Myth/Telling—Dream/Showing.” The final poem, “New Birth,” reaffirms the forward-looking, visionary perspective underlying the entire collection. In this chantlike invocation to change, Allen uses short, flowing lines to replicate the ongoing transformative process she describes throughout Skins and Bones.

She acknowledges the importance of death and destruction; however, as in previous pieces such as “Teaching Poetry at Votech High” and “Grandma’s Dying Poem,” she combines the acceptance of loss with the reaffirmation of survival, transformation, and renewal. Similarly, in “Iroquois Sunday: Watertown, 1982” and “Taking a Visitor to See the Ruins,” Allen depicts the reemergence of traditional beliefs in modern contexts.

The poems collected in the first section of Skins and Bones provide the most explicit illustration of Allen’s feminist perspective. By associating the cosmic feminine force introduced in the opening poem with positive images of female identity, Allen uses revisionist mythmaking to construct an empowering tradition of autonomous women. As she retells...

(The entire section is 822 words.)