The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Travels in the South” is a three-part poem in free verse, its sections divided by geographical location: “East Texas,” “The Creek Nation East of the Mississippi,” and “Crossing the Georgia Border into Florida.” As the title suggests, Simon J. Ortiz, a member of the Acoma Pueblo tribe of American Indians, takes readers on an emotionally charged journey through several southern states beginning with an early morning departure from the Coushatta people in Alabama and ending in a state park in Florida. Using first person throughout, he skillfully situates these travels within the context of the narrator’s heritage, culture, family, and community.

The first part, “East Texas,” establishes a warm connection with the Coushatta people who feed and emotionally nourish the narrator on this leg of his journey. While the poem begins here, readers sense that his travels actually began earlier and that this locale is merely where he begins his tale, which is, in essence, a quest to find Native American people. It thus constitutes the narrator’s search for identity. A humbling stop at the Huntsville State Penitentiary and a talk with the American Indian prisoners there completes his Alabama trip. When Ortiz turns his attention to Texas, the tone shifts; in fact, the narrator admits he does not want to be in Dallas, Texas, where the Bureau of Indian Affairs relocation official cannot even say how many American Indians live in the city. Witnessing much suffering, including a jobless Navajo and “an Apache woman crying for her lost life,” the traveler...

(The entire section is 643 words.)