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.