‘extra-literary expectations’

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i know i know NaBlogWriMo is over. but hey, while i’m here i might as well say that i just finished my first review of the month! it’s of jaime luis huenun’s PUERTO TRAKL (PORT TRAKL) which you can dig at ACTION BOOKS.

the translator’s introduction, writ by daniel borzutzky, includes a passage (in translation) from an article. huenun said:

“the emergence of an ethnic poetry has generated a series of extra-literary expectations, one of which seems to suggest that a writer of indigenous origins can only sing about the natural world, his ancestors, his gods and mythologies. And it’s all the better if he does this in his native language. I try, simply, not to deceive; that is, I try to maintain a certain coherence between my origins, my upbringing and my literary interests and obsessions. In this sense, I think that a poet of indigenous origins raised in an urban Chilean school, as is my case, does not need to…defend his ethnic condition by writing bad ethnic poetry.”

(el mercurio, 2/22/02) (trans by borzutzky)

altho i did not address this passage in my review (which is already at 1500 words), i wanted to see what you folks thought about this statement.

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2 thoughts on “‘extra-literary expectations’

  1. What Moon Drove Me to This? –Joy Harjo

    Which reminds me of a poem all about those extra-literary expectations: Sherman Alexie’s “Reservation Love Song.” One of my favorites. Any favorite Harjo poems I should read?

  2. OK, I really like this statement you’ve excerpted here, as it is asserting the existence of the opposite of noble savage. I think the expectation placed on the ethnic writer to represent that pure indigenous experience, language, and culture stems from a denial on the part of the dominant culture that the dominant culture has displaced the “indigenous” via mission work/Christian conversion, boarding schools, destruction of the places where the “indigenous” have made their homes and a subsequent movement into city streets, etc.

    That said, to answer Eric’s question on Joy Harjo poems, I believe much of her work, while very much “Native American,” takes place in cities and in places other than “ancestral” places. I’d recommend the book The Woman Who Fell From the Sky. But if you want to read poetry written by Native American poets, I’d recommend Linda Hogan and Leslie Marmon Silko (Storyteller) before Harjo.

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