Wendy Rose Rose, Wendy (Poetry Criticism) - Essay

Principal Works

(Poetry Criticism)


Hopi Roadrunner Dancing 1973

Long Division: A Tribal History 1976

Academic Squaw: Report to the World from the Ivory Tower 1977

Builder Kachina: A Home-Going Cycle 1979

Lost Copper 1980

What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York 1982

The Halfbreed Chronicles, and Other Poems 1985

Going to War with All My Relations: New and Selected Poems 1993

Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1993 1994

Other Major Works

Aboriginal Tattooing in California (nonfiction) 1979

James Ruppert (essay date 1980)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Uses of Oral Tradition in Six Contemporary Native American Poets," in American Indian Culture and Research Journal, Vol. 4, No. 4, 1980, pp. 87-110.

[In the following excerpt, Ruppert assesses Rose's efforts to write poetry that serves as a "modern correlative to the traditional functions of song" in Native American culture.]

Wendy Rose's poetry outlines a growth process through which song becomes an important and determining aspect of modern Native American experience. The task posited is to find for the urban Indian a modern correlative to the traditional functions of song. In this she tries to merge the directions of the personal lyric with the communal song. Implicit in this endeavor, as with most of the poets here, is the assumption that the processes of modern poetry and the traditions of song are similar. The initial position of the growth process is one in which Indians of today—especially urban Indians—find themselves without the knowledge and cut off from song and the oral tradition; [as Rose notes in "Vanishing Point: Urban Indian" from Long Division: A Tribal History] they are metaphorically dispossessed of the elements of the tradition which would connect them firmly to an intact culture and place them inside social structures: "it is I / without learning, I without song, who / dies and cries the death time." Imagistically the traditional songs seem thrust into non-receptive space, powerless. The sense of the lost force of the songs looms large [in Long Division] because of the remnants of culture and song that now lie in ruin. "We die in granite scaffolding / on the shape of the Sierras and lay down / with lips open thrusting songs on the / world. Who are we / and do we still live? The shaman sleeps / and says no."

Here in the present the poet discovers she has been left out: she has not only missed the impelling continuity of an intact oral tradition, but personally she is too late, too old to be "kiva-whipped" and thus incorporated into the communal life, taught the songs and welcomed into the tradition. The poet dwells with a dual depletion, both of the individual and of the oral tradition as expressed by the present condition of the tribes. The poet sees the world animated by frozen words that confine growth and retard understanding. These words are politically powerful, but the result is devastating for the tribal cultures. Songs can only crawl out of the confines like worms out of the stomach of a decaying body. [She writes in "Trickster 1977" in Geary Hobson's The Remembered Earth that] "The whole world is made-up / of words, mountain-thick, that wait / to cave in with edges...

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Wendy Rose (essay date 1981)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "American Indian Poets—And Publishing," in Book Forum, Vol. V, No. 3, 1981, pp. 400-02.

[In the following excerpt, Rose comments on the experience of Native American writers in the literary world.]

I have a vivid memory of walking into a bookstore in San Francisco that is well known for small press books, especially poetry, in order to buy a copy of the then-new book The Names, a literary autobiography, by Kiowa author, N. Scott Momaday. Having no luck in locating it on the shelves, I asked the clerk. He suggested that I look in the anthropology section or perhaps in the section especially set aside for works by and about American Indians. Sure enough, a variety of novels and poetry collections could be found under "anthropology" in that store; a quick check in the "poetry" section revealed that they could be found only under "anthropology." When I returned to the clerk, I pointed out (with a smile) that the books were incorrectly shelved. No, I was told, they were placed where they were because the authors were Indian. Therefore, it must be anthropology. When I replied that these authors were not anthropologists and the works not anthropology, he simply said that it didn't matter because, after all, there was not enough literature by Indian writers to worry about where to shelve it and would I please leave the premises. I left. In answer to the man's statement on Indian literature, I began compiling a bibliography of book-length works by American Indian and Eskimo authors; today, less than three years later, I have over 3000 entries, some of them going back into the eighteenth century.

Another event, much more recent, is similar. I was asked, several months ago, to do a poetry reading at a Bay Area bookstore that also specialized in small press publications. I accepted and was then asked who I would like to read with. I gave the name of a young (non-Indian) woman whose work I admire and who needs the exposure and experience of reading in public. She was rejected as my co-reader because she is not Indian. A quick look over my reading schedule over the years confirmed that almost always I have read with other Indian poets or, sometimes, with other writers of another ethnic minority. Almost never with whites. When I told the organizers of this particular reading that I would prefer to choose my own co-reader and that I did not care if this person was Indian or not, they canceled my reading and replaced me with a white man. The message is clear: be the ethnic curio that we want you to be or else we will not let you in at all.

What does this mean? It means that the literary world is, like the "real" world, full of backlash (against apparent progress by minority writers), of colonial thinking, and of an imperialist mentality characterized by Cherokee writer, Geary Hobson, as "white-shamanism." The two examples cited above are simply from my personal "repertoire" and readers might be asking at this point why I objected to these situations. The segregation of Indian-authored literature in the bookstore is not only philosophical, but economic. If you are looking for poetry, you are not likely to look in the "anthropology" section. In the case of reading, it is perhaps more subtle. Most writers, I believe, would rather be judged on the quality of their work than on the set of attributes with which they were born. When I read a review of one of my books and find that the reviewer never gets past my ethnicity, I am offended even if what is said is "positive." I did not write that book in order to announce that I am Indian; I wrote it because I am a poet. Poetry is what I do. Indian is how I was born and how I see my world. I believe that my work is no more nor less "ethnic" than anyone else's. Everyone's work is saturated with ethnicity because our backgrounds are context for our works. All of us; not...

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B. Almon (essay date 1986)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems, in Choice, Vol. 23, No. 9, May, 1986, p. 1392.

[In the following review, Almon praises The Halfbreed Chronicles and the "elegance and precision" of Rose's poetry.]

[The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems is a] strong and well-crafted collection of poems on Native American subjects. Rose writes with elegance and precision: her images are brilliant and her lines move with sureness. Rose's use of parallelism links her work to Native American models, while her diction manages to be fresh (because it is vivid) and traditional (because it evokes fundamentals of life and earth in the Indian tradition). She writes protest poems that avoid attitudinizing and easy rhetoric. Most of Rose's work has an objective flavor, but when it takes on a personal tinge, it comes across as genuine and lacking in self-pity even when the material is distressing ("The Building of the Trophy") The last section of the book, "The Halfbreed Chronicles," moves from Native themes to a worldwide perspective: there are compassionate and angry poems about such figures as Truganinny, the last Tasmanian, Yuriko, a Hiroshima victim, Kitty Hart (who survived Auschwitz), and Isamu, a Japanese American sculptor rejected by his Japanese father. These poems are imagined from within: the subjects are not reduced to texts for sermons.

Joseph Bruchac (interview date 1987)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Bones Are Alive," in Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets, Sun Tracks and The University of Arizona Press, 1987, pp. 249-69.

[In the following interview, Rose discusses her poetry, the influences of her mixed origins and the frustrations of being a Native American writer.]

[Bruchac]: In his preface to your collected poems—Lost Copper—N. Scott Momaday said that it was a book, "not made up of poems, I think, but of songs." Would you agree with that distinction of Momaday's?

[Rose]: In a subjective sense, yes. I don't think that the poems are literally songs the way that we usually understand the term....

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Robert L. Berner (essay date 1994)

(Poetry Criticism)

SOURCE: A review of Going to War with All My Relations, in World Literature Today, Vol. 68, No. 2, Spring, 1994, pp. 408-09.

[In the following review, Lerner presents a favorable assessment of Going to War with All My Relations.]

Because Wendy Rose is both a poet and a professional anthropologist and is acutely conscious of both her Indian and her European ancestry, she is uniquely situated to perceive both analytically and imaginatively the complexities of Indian experience in America. Her eighth book [Going to War with All My Relations], balancing characteristic earlier poems and recent uncollected work, is a valuable survey of her poetic career and an...

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Further Reading

(Poetry Criticism)


Jacob, John. Review of Long Division: A Tribal History. Booklist, September 15, 1977, p. 133.

Jacob offers a short synopsis of Long Division: A Tribal History.

Lincoln, Kenneth. "Finding the Loss." Parnassus, Vol. 10, No. 1, Spring/Summer 1982.

Lincoln discusses the diversity of present-day Native Americans and how this heritage affects Rose's writing and self-concept.

Ratner, Rochelle. Review of The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems, by Wendy Rose. Library Journal, Vol. 111, No. 1, January 1986, p. 89.

Positive assessment of The Halfbreed Chronicles.


Coltelli, Laura. "Wendy Rose." In her Winged Words: American Indian Writers Speak. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990, pp. 121-33.

Rose discusses themes and images in her work and her background in anthropology.

Hunter, Carol. "A MELUS Interview: Wendy Rose." MELUS 10, No. 3, Fall 1983, p. 67-87.

Rose reflects upon her life, works, and political beliefs.

Additional coverage of Rose's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Contemporary Authors, Vols. 53-56; Contemporary Authors New Revision Series, Vol. 5; Native North American Literature; and Something about the Author, Vol. 12.