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The best-selling poetry anthologies from Native American writers are dated (in this order) 1918, 1996, 1988 and 1984. Heid E. Erdrich set out to expand that timeline, and subvert boundaries, by compiling and editing New Poets of Native Nations.
“I did not want to add to the body of literature that allows ‘Indians’ to exist in the past, or in relation to the past,” Erdrich writes, “but remain invisible in the world we all inhabit now.”
Erdrich’s anthology features work from 21 poets whose first books were, fittingly, published at some point during the 21st century—including Tacey M. Atsitty, Trevino L. Brings Plenty, Julian Talamantez Brolaski, Laura Da’, Natalie Diaz, Jennifer Elise Foerster, Eric Gansworth, Gordon Henry, Jr., Sy Hoahwah, LeAnne Howe, Layli Long Soldier, Janet McAdams, Brandy Na -lani McDougall, Margaret Noodin, dg nanouk okpik, Craig Santos Perez, Tommy Pico, Cedar Sigo, M. L. Smoker, Gwen Westerman and Karenne Wood. Work from Erdrich herself, the author of five collections, is also featured.
While the collection has the word “new” in the title, the writers featured are not young or inexperienced. They are former National Artist Fellows from the Native Arts and Culture Foundation and winners of the Lambda Literary Awards, PEN America Awards, Truman Capote Literary Trust Awards, Corson-Browning Poetry Prizes and National Book Critics Circle Awards for Poetry, among many others. Ranging in topics, but connected through a shared language of social justice, they represent some of the best writers in the Americas.
The work within New Poets is challenging and profound; the collection, which ranges from experimental and hybrid poetry to lyrical poems, is teeming with talent. Inside, Layli Long Soldier, whose first book WHERAS came out earlier this year, shares a beautiful, tragic and expertly hopeful piece titled “38” examining the slaughter of 38 Dakota men in 1862—the same week the Emancipation Proclamation was signed by then-President Abraham Lincoln. Tommy Pico, a self-indentified “weirdo NDN faggot,” writes refreshingly, startlingly and powerfully within its pages about his experiences at karaoke bars and on college campuses in moments that swing the reader from intense laughter to harsh and heavy tears.
Once on campus I see a York Peppermint Pattie wrapper on the ground, pick it up, and throw it away.
Yr such a good Indian says some dikl walking to class. So,
I no longer pick up trash.
“These 21 new poets, like their predecessors, are emerging from the Earth or falling from the Sky, from industrial streets, boarding schools, fast cards, all0night tribal or city dances, MFA programs and bureaucratic lines,” feminist and indigenous poet Joy Harjo writes about the collection. “Beauty threads with squalor. This is Earth. What a collection Heid E. Erdich has made of so many original and fresh Native voices, from so many places, gathered here, right here; it is happening, this new Native Nations poetry.”