Diane Glancy Sept 3, 2008 19:43:48 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 3, 2008 19:43:48 GMT 2
Asylum in the Grasslands by Diane Glancy
The Arizona University Press, 2007
Review by Kimberly L. Becker
If, as Diane Glancy observes, “Writing is a conversation,” then we are fortunate to listen in on her latest collection of poems, Asylum in the Grasslands. Author of more than thirty books, Glancy is also novelist, essayist, and playwright. Her many literary prizes include an American Book Award, the Minnesota Book Award in Poetry, the Native American Prose Award and a Sundance Screenwriting Fellowship. In Asylum in the Grasslands she devotes her formidable talent to illuminating the history of the Cherokee.
There is movement in these poems: both forced removal and migrations to “the grasslands of the next world.” Spirits of ancestors come and go, since “Distance is no measure.” Women have traditionally been esteemed as leaders within the Cherokee community, so it is no surprise when the spirit of Great-grandmother stops by for a visit. Yet when she speaks in Cherokee, “I shrug in frustration. How do I tell her even the / words of her Cherokee language do not survive?” Glancy acknowledges that spiritual connection sustains even when native language wanes: “I watch the buffalo cross her / cheek. Under the buckskin there are grapevines for her ribcage. / In her pocket a map of pit stops on the large arc of her restless / migration.”
Glancy transforms the ordinary into the luminous. A snakeskin found on the lawn is first “A crackly robe. / Delicate. / Royal. / Something the children / would have played with” then “a robe Clytemnestra wore / after her daughter Iphigenia / was sacrificed.” The speaker rolls the snakeskin in her hand and thinks of “the sacrifice of women.”
Government boarding schools forced Indian children to sacrifice their own culture in the name of assimilation. “Boarding School for Indian Women” addresses the resultant sense of dislocation: “Now our world is taken, and we are / left with this shadow of our making. / The next world is far away.” Glancy’s poems access the past, yet one “beyond memory / into heritage / or ancestral levels of thought.” Her writing evidences what Gerald Vizenor termed survivance. She witnesses to loss, but also to “a power that transcends horror.”
These poems affirm a transcendent power. In the title poem she envisions the Savior as someone you meet “in the prairie grass / his face so full of light he’s milk-eyed / you let his ideas roll over you / you even forget the bitterness you learned / all your life.” In “Buffalo Medicine” the buffalo are at one with the Great Spirit: “…we would run through the prairie / with the wind in our ears. Our large heads pure with mind. The / Great Spirit great as he spoke. Yo. Were his. We grunted / his praises. Snorted and roamed in his will.”
Like wind through the prairie grass, Glancy’s poetry whispers insistently: listen. “Language is still enough,” she asserts in one poem. In this moving book, it surely is.
review originally published in Her Circle Ezine