Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

In the twenty-four poems collected in Skins and Bones, Paula Gunn Allen reinterprets the historic and mythic beliefs of indigenous North American peoples from a twentieth century feminist perspective and develops a highly distinctive woman-focused tradition. By incorporating American Indian accounts of a cosmic feminine power into her poetry, she connects the past with the present and creates a complex pattern of continuity, regeneration, and change that affirms her holistic, spirit-based worldview. Allen’s ability to synthesize personal reflection and social critique with her gynecentric Indian perspective simultaneously politicizes and spiritualizes her poetry. As she combines personal expression with social commentary and revisionary myth, she underscores her belief in transformation, survival, regeneration, and change.

Divided into three parts, the poems in Skins and Bones encompass a wide array of interrelated personal, philosophical, and social concerns, ranging from meditations on creation and death to descriptions of late-twentieth century bicultural American Indian life. In the first section, “ ‘C’koy’u, Old Woman’: Songs of Tradition,” which consists primarily of narrative poems, Allen stages a number of confrontations between Indian and European peoples and beliefs. She employs revisionist mythmaking to reinterpret conventional religious and historical accounts from a woman-centered, American Indian point of...

(The entire section is 517 words.)