Carol Bachofner’s new book is here

Abenaki poet Carol Bachofner’s new book is out!–thanks to the inimitable Joe and Jesse Bruchac (Abenaki), and their publishing venture, Bowman Books.

This is Carol’s fourth book, and in many ways the most overtly “Native” (raising the whole question, of course, of what makes poetry “Indian.”  I have heard Carol say that if she wrote that shopping list, it’s an Abenaki shopping list.) 

Daughter of the Ardennes Forest (2007) was a slim but powerful chapbook honoring her father’s military service.  Breakfast at the Brass Compass (2009) paid tribute to a favorite cafe in Carol’s hometown of Rockland and the landscapes nearby.   I Write in the Greenhouse (2011), also place-based, contains more poems about Maine and its people, including Andrew Wyeth and Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Bachofner likes themed collections, and in Native Moons, Native Days, she turns to her Abenaki family, history, culture and language.   With her permission, I’m posting this sample:

We Speak the White Man’s Language

except when dreaming, except when our fingers
braid hair, weave blankets, knot bait bags,
when we are praying in Indian. Work brings words
from the belly, the soles of the feet.
Words walk the woods where our relatives
burned the way forward from camp to camp,
trading stories with people along the way.
We speak in our own tongues, syllables full
of consonants, echoing from the back
of the throat to the nose, to the wind.
Our words are a clearing, a place for fire.
Where did the language go when the black robes
threw holy water on it? Did it disappear
when the switch was on our backs? Into the trees,
into the streams, into our wombs to wait.

I’d like to invite anyone who’s interested to join a discussion of Native Moons, Native Days in our Indigenous New England reading group on goodreads.com.  We can start after the New Year, though the group’s discussion remains on goodreads for as long as people want to keep reading and posting.  Carol herself has been known to show up there!

You can learn more about Carol on her own website.  Happy holidays!

Abenaki poet Cheryl Savageau

One of the most accomplished indigenous poets describing New Hampshire is surely Cheryl Savageau. She has been writing about her Abenaki and French heritage for years, to substantial critical and academic acclaim (including a Pulitzer prize nomination).

Her first book, Home Country (1992), is unfortunately out of print now, though you can still find used copies, as well as a cassette recording of some of those poems. The second, Dirt Road Home (1996), is a little more readily available, although its publisher, Curbstone, had to close recently.

Partly, perhaps, because New Hampshire doesn’t have federally recognized Indian tribes, or reservations, or a lot of the other structures that make indigenous people visible (like economic enterprise), many people seem to assume that there really “aren’t any” Native people here. Dirt Road Home really re-maps the Granite State as Abenaki territory (which it is, along with Vermont, and parts of western Massachusetts, western Maine, and southern Quebec). In one of the best poems, “Looking for Indians,” she remembers the night her father hauls out an atlas:
See, he says, Abenaki,

and shows me the map

here and here and here

he says, all this

is Abenaki country.

In her third book,  Mother/Land, Savageau is even more persistent in mapping specific places in New Hampshire (the Pemigewasset River) and Massachusetts (Lake Quinsigamond) as deeply Native spaces. And there are all kinds of other treasures here, too, like the poems about the rings and necklaces she sifts through in her mother’s jewelry box, after her mother’s passing; and some juicy indigenous erotica as well!

If you are academically inclined, you can check out my essay on Savageau’s poetry in Studies in American Indian Literatures 22.3 (2010).  But why not get yourself a copy of Mother/Land and join our “Indigenous New England” discussion group on Goodreads.com?  A dynamic group of readers (including at least one other Abenaki poet!) will be joining us until October 3.

Mapping Native New Hampshire

Blogging, I’ve found, can be highly addictive, and can lead you straight into other time-consuming digital hobbies. I’m becoming interested in collaborative mapping. How would it change the way people look at, say, a “white” (not!) state like New Hampshire, if a group of people INDIGENIZED this space. . .?

I would be very interested to hear recommendations for additional links!

Abenaki historian Marge Bruchac speaking July 23

One Abenaki writer who has taught me a lot over the years is Marge Bruchac. She’ll be giving a talk next Saturday, July 23, 7 pm, at the Hopkinton Historical Society on “The Sadoques Family of Keene, NH: Abenaki Artisans and Entrepreneurs.”

I’ve heard Marge speak several times, and she’s always riveting; she is absolutely relentless as an historical detective, and seems able to ferret out information about Native people in New England that no one else can. Years ago, in fact, she wrote an influential essay called “Hiding In Plain Sight, or Problems in Documenting Western Abenaki Ancestry,” where she persuasively explained why it’s so challenging to write about the Abenaki: though they have always been here, in New Hampshire and Vermont, some Abenaki people felt pressured at times to conceal their Native heritage, especially during the Vermont Eugenics Project. While there have also been plenty of Abenaki people throughout New England who did express their culture openly and confidently (the Laurent family is one interesting example), this periodic “hiding in plain sight” has made for a challenging historical record.

Now an Assistant Professor of Anthropology, and Coordinator of Native American & Indigenous Studies at the University of Connecticut at Storrs and Avery Point, Dr. Bruchac is also a gifted public historian. She is much in demand as a storyteller; she is one of the few Native women from New England to have written a play, molly has her say; she wrote a highly-regarded children’s book, Malian’s Song; and she’s a terrific poet, too. It’s rare, actually, to find an accomplished academic doing so much, so well.
Scholars like me always look to Marge’s research on Algonkian Indian history, archaeology, and repatriation to help us understand the intricate politics of doing Native anthropology and history in New England. You can see her full resume by clicking on the link above; but as even that brief list of roles—Anthropologist,
Historian, and Museum Consultant—suggests, the stakes are high in the work she does. So she uses every conceivable genre to tell the stories of northeastern Native people and material culture.

Hope to see some of you in Hopkinton next week! As a special treat, Marge will be joined by Joyce Heywood, a descendant of the Sadoques and Watso families who has some interesting histories of her own to share.

Welcome

Welcome to my “Indigenous New England Literature” blog.  Following Native American writers from this region has become something of an obsession for me, ever since the late 1990s, when I started teaching Native American literature at universities in Maine and New Hampshire.  I wanted to include local writers in my courses, but I ran into some obstacles (and some outright lies).  I’ll be discussing some of these in this blog, but mainly I’ll be writing short reviews of terrific writing that I think more people ought to be reading.

One outright lie is that Indians “vanished” from New England centuries ago, and/or that the Native people who live here today are somehow “assimilated” or “not really very Indian.”  These ideas are ridiculous, but they unfortunately carry great weight in New England—in local monuments to chiefs who plunged to their deaths from mountaintops, in mainstream press coverage of casinos, and in local lore.  If you want a detailed, eminently readable account of how your town local histories helped create these myths, look no further than Jean O’Brien’s book, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England. O’Brien is a first-rate historian, and in these dusty old books she has found “a New England thickly populated by ‘last’ Indians throughout the nineteenth century, and occasionally into the twentieth.”

New England is indeed thickly populated by Native Americans, none of whom can be said to be the “last of their tribe.”   And a lot of them are writing, and writing really good work—interesting work, challenging work, beautiful work.   But sadly, much of this writing is either invisible or hard to get.  Prolific and powerful writers like Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki) and Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel (Mohegan) get relatively little marketing or critical attention.  Talented award-winners like Cheryl Savageau (Abenaki) see their books go out of print almost as soon as they get published.  And still others have trouble getting publishers’ attention in the first place.

On this blog I’ll be sharing some of my favorite writers and letting you know how to find them and their work.  Where possible I hope to interview some of them, so they can tell you first-hand about their experiences with the publishing industry, and their hopes for the future.  And I always welcome feedback from readers. . .and especially from writers.