Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 434
Some of the clearest and strongest voices in contemporary American poetry belong to writers speaking from traditions long buried or submerged by an emphasis on the European origins of American culture to the exclusion of other dynamic and vital strains. As William Oandasan (a member of the Ukommno’m tribe of Northern California) has put it, “the voice of an ancient age/dreaming of breath” has recently found expression in the work of many Native American writers. Among these, Simon Ortiz has been highly regarded since the 1960’s for his efforts to preserve, examine, and restore the cultural values of the people living in the four corners region of the Southwestern desert.
WOVEN STONE gathers three books previously published, collections primarily of poetry but also including stories, essays, and narratives interspersed amid the poems. Ortiz, like many contemporary Native American writers, is concerned with connecting the heritage of Indian thought and practice ranging over more than one thousand years with the difficulties of life in America for Indians today. The first section, “Going For The Rain,” is divided into four parts: “The Preparation,” which covers Ortiz’s earliest memories and his education with his family, as well as his first acquaintance with the myth and lore of his people; “Leaving,” which follows his initiation into the world of strangers beyond his community; “Returning,” which details his confusion as he tries to integrate his experiences in the “Mericano” world with his background and beliefs; and “The Rain Falls,” which presents a fuller understanding of the meaning of the myths he has heard. The second section, “A Good Journey,” traces his experience in American society as he searches for a sense of direction and a sense of self. The final one, “Fight Back: For the Sake of the People, For the Sake of the Land,” is a forceful, eloquent expression of Ortiz’s political convictions. Here he discusses ways in which Native Americans have been exploited from the arrival of Spanish colonialists to the present, alternating poem/song with a very direct narrative description of the uranium mines on his homeground, and their effect on the landscape.
Utilizing the language and rhythms of his community’s oral tradition, and the open forms of contemporary American poets such as Gary Snyder, Ortiz expresses the philosophical perspective—especially the reciprocal relationship between land and people—of a modern man with ties to “an ancient age.” His work isvery accessible, and this volume is an excellent book to begin learning about Native American culture as well as a demonstration of the clarity and power of an accomplished American poet.