Daily Archives: 19 January 2010

North: Poems of Home

Maurice Kenny, North: Poems of home (Blue Cloud Quarterly 1977)

This book found me by serendipity. A BookMoocher  said she’d be willing to send me the book I wanted if I mooched at least one more at the same time (same postage for her, twice the BookMooch points). I chose this pretty much at random from her list of moochable titles.

Maurice Kenny is a Native American poet who has twice been nominated for the Pulitzer Prize. The blurb on this little book explains that the poems deal largely with ‘his childhood in the Mohawk Nation and his friendships there’. But the book lacks the personal touch that this description led me to expect, especially in the many incantatory list poems. I went looking on the web, and the very first Maurice Kenny poem I stumbled across, ‘Going Home‘, published a decade or so after this book, was of a completely different order. It’s as if in this book, he is in some way claiming, or proclaiming, his heritage:

north by the star
we go home, we go …
to the pheasant, woodchuck, muskrat
the last deer standing the summer
of flies on the blood of the wolf
howled in the north
(from ‘Home’)

And having claimed the heritage, he could look more closely at his relationship to it in the 1988 poem, which concludes:

home from Brooklyn to the reservation
that was not home
to songs I could not sing
to dances I could not dance
from Brooklyn bars and ghetto rats
to steaming horses stomping frozen earth
barns and privies lost in blizzards
home to a Nation, Mohawk
to faces I did not know
and hands which did not recognize me
to names and doors
my father shut

I don’t think I would have felt the pathos of that exclusion as fully if I hadn’t read these earlier, rhetorical poems.