A diverse and illuminating volume of Native American poetry that explores Western migration.

Red Indian Road West: Native American Poetry From California

An anthology offers poems by Native Americans with ties to California.

California is home to the largest Native American population in the U.S., encompassing more than 100 indigenous tribes as well as members of groups from other states. It has also been home, at one time or another, to many of the country’s indispensable Native American poets. This anthology, edited by Schweigman (Commods, 2000) and Day (Becoming an Ancestor, 2015, etc.), begins with the former’s poem “Ishi’s Hiding Place.” It ruminates on the final years of Ishi, last of the Yahi, who, when he appeared near Oroville, California, in 1911, was hailed as the “last ‘wild’ Indian” and studied by anthropologists at Berkeley. The poem poignantly establishes California as a place of great meaning in the Native American consciousness: one of the final lands of native peoples absorbed into the United States and a de facto gathering site of wayward Native Americans from other places, pushed west over the course of the 20th century by government actions, economic need, or wanderlust. Jennifer Elsie Foerster captures this idea of migration in “California,” one of the collection’s finest pieces: “Dragging a rack of whale ribs / I carried the relics in my mouth. / Met a woman named California, / could not pull her voice out.” Wendy Rose remembers a transplanted community in “To the Hopi in Richmond”: “My people in boxcars, / my people, my pain, / united by the window steam / of lamb stew cooking / and the metal of your walls.” Other poems are more intimate, examining memory or family history. In “Why I Hate Raisins,” Natalie Diaz remembers the stigma of government-provided food. In “Drift,” Janice Gould considers the dynamic geography of clouds shifting overhead. The anthology includes work by many accomplished poets like Deborah A. Miranda, Carolyn Dunn, J.P. Dancing Bear, Indira Allegra, Hershman John, Sylvia Ross, and Jewelle Gomez as well as poets that many readers will be encountering for the first time. Not all of the writers are current residents of California, and not all of the poems deal with the state directly, but in aggregate they manage to communicate a vision of Native American poetry at the western edge of American expansion.

A diverse and illuminating volume of Native American poetry that explores Western migration.

Pub Date: April 4, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-9768676-5-4

Page Count: 112

Publisher: Scarlet Tanager Books

Review Posted Online: June 7, 2016

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2016

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    Best Books Of 2012



Merging geographic precision with detailed lyricism, Berry’s collection of poetry spans continents and states of the soul.

The best poetry focused on a particular locale tends to evoke sensory stimulation as much as meaning, and Berry’s collection of nearly 60 poems is no different. Born in England, the author has travelled widely throughout Africa and the United States. With a doctorate in geography, she casts a discriminating, discerning eye on the landscapes to which her travels have taken her. In unrhymed, compact poems—few more than a page in length—the poet speaks with seriousness about the relationship between the natural world and one’s inner world. In “Music of Place,” she writes: “Carried in the wind is the music of place, blown / like washing on a line, white sheets flapping, sending / large billowing folds of sound back to me,” which typifies her ability to translate a place into a finely detailed, highly specific moment in her past or present. Some poems set in North Africa elevate journallike jottings into sharply etched experiences. The dominant moods suffusing these poems are calm and meditational, perhaps reflecting the influence of poet Elizabeth Bishop, who was also attuned to inner and outer geographies. The final 20 poems shift focus from geography and place to reconciliations or frictions with family members; many relatives have passed on but are vibrantly alive in the author’s memory. These family sketches often turn on a particularly poignant phrase spoken to the author by a parent or loved one: “Windows” pivots on Berry’s father’s comment, “I could drive if I wanted to,” as the author notes that her father never owned a car. Few books of recent poetry reveal such a penetrating awareness of how the environments in which we live affect us as much as we affect them. An extraordinary, nuanced collection by a gifted poet.


Pub Date: Aug. 1, 2010

ISBN: 978-1935514749

Page Count: 80

Publisher: Plain View

Review Posted Online: April 11, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2012

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Wise, kind and lively verse that truly “dances to a tune that’s / gloriously redeeming / of anger, hate, and envy. / It’s an...



Engaging lyric poetry that manages to be sensual and cerebral, fun and profound.

Readers willing to dig deeper than the work of poets Derek Walcott, Linton Kwesi Johnson and Anthony Joseph will find that exciting new worlds of Caribbean poetry await. Although some lesser-known Caribbean writers tend to get bogged down in the exotic fecundity of their island landscapes, others write with a grace and steadiness that highlights personal experience within the larger context of culture and environment to reveal something universal. Trinidadian novelist, painter and poet Drayton (The Crystal Bird, 2012, etc.) most decidedly falls into the latter category. Her personal poems often focus on singular moments in her past, yet her evocation of the slippage between past and present, of how we manage to exist in both times simultaneously, speaks directly to readers. The exploration of how “time…magically overlaps generations” pervades this collection. Her narrators are buffeted by nostalgia but are never fatalistic or cloying; instead, they treasure the past and the present as a single fabric of interwoven threads. One narrator, for instance, revisits a memorable beach and finds that the “scenery I knew has all but gone, / except for the sea. / Longing and waiting, I dream of the days / that never can be again. / The sea waits while I dream a dream / where I stand on the balcony of this precious day.” Drayton invests symbols with a similar complexity; the titular brown dove, for instance, is at once a symbol of maternal devotion, sexual allure, rebellion and quiet endurance, and is rife with gender and racial resonances. Occasionally, her more contemplative poems suffer from excess erudition, and she is sometimes prone to distracting alliteration, but she also delivers unmatched similes such as, “The morning stormed my day / like a drunken party crasher / with streams of gold and white ribbons / coming through the window.”

Wise, kind and lively verse that truly “dances to a tune that’s / gloriously redeeming / of anger, hate, and envy. / It’s an awesome authority / with boundless energy.” 

Pub Date: Nov. 20, 2012

ISBN: 978-1478160045

Page Count: 120

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Jan. 31, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: March 1, 2013

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