Susan Deer Cloud Sept 3, 2008 19:52:58 GMT 2
Post by moira on Sept 3, 2008 19:52:58 GMT 2
The Last Ceremony by Susan Deer Cloud
FootHills Publishing, 2007
Review by Kimberly L. Becker
A writer of Blackfoot, Mohawk, Seneca heritage (Métis), Susan Deer Cloud grew up in the Catskill Mountains, but, as indicated on the Winning Writers web site, “has sojourned in many places.” Along the way, Deer Cloud has accumulated many awards, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship in Literature. Her bio on the NEA website reads, “her cat is not impressed by any of this.” It is hard not to be impressed, however, by Deer Cloud’s third book of poetry, The Last Ceremony.
In Native tradition, ceremony is central and healing. Deer Cloud laments the loss of tribal lands and traditions: “In what places might I do ceremony / … let fall sweet smelling tobacco to the ground / after the words are covered over with my sadness?” She mourns the diminished ceremonial life of her people: “I am not going to pretend. The only ceremony / we had left to us was taking rides in a dented / Chevy on dirt roads no city slickers could find. / The only ceremony left to us was stopping / at a path we mountain Indians knew about, / stepping behind one another, hands brushing / the bent ferns.”
Deer Cloud does not stand on ceremony: her language can be every bit as earthy as the landscape she inhabits. In one poem, the key word from a familiar phrase is changed from cojones to cunt. Deer Cloud unapologetically claims the power of the feminine, especially in the prize-winning poem “Welcome to the Land of Ma’am” (Prairie Schooner’s Readers’ Choice Award, 2003). In contrast to the current cult of young and artificial women with “collagen-smiles, sucked-thin thighs,” Deer Cloud dreams of reclaiming a time, “when older women were revered as beautiful elders, medicine women, / wise women, beloved women, when the People cried for their visions / in the female heart of the ancient hills.”
In her author’s statement for the NEA, Deer Cloud says, “I am of Native heritage, and our approach to life is very much one that includes thanksgiving, gratitude.” Indeed, her poem “Why I Love Being an Indian” celebrates an impromptu cell phone call from her sister, who has seen a vision above their Indian grandfather’s house: “I love this about being Indian, having a sister call me like this / me stopping in my tracks under florescent lights in a grocery store, / grinning a giant of a smile as she tells me about a cloud warrior.”
Deer Cloud writes with the strength of a warrior, yet she also evinces a certain vulnerability. In one of the most moving passages, she asks: “What if you could love yourself enough / to learn your own language, dance / between earth and sky? / Or at least pretend to?” In The Last Ceremony Deer Cloud does more than pretend—she dances, beautifully and powerfully, with words.
[url=[http://www.winningwriters.com/contests/war/2007/wa07_cloud.php]Susan Dear Cloud[/url][/b][/size]
review first published by her circle ezine