American Indians •  Literary Criticism and Cultural Studies

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The Nature of Native American Poetry

Norma C. Wilson

The beginning of the twenty-first century marks the maturation of the voices of indigenous poets in the United States. Norma Wilson's appealing and accessible collection of essays is both an introduction to and an enthusiastic celebration of the poetic vistas inhabited by modern Native American writers.

Wilson's scope is both broad and specific as she draws from contemporary criticism, tribal histories and folklore, interviews with writers, and, of course, from the poetry itself. Her study is firmly grounded in the oral traditions and personal and tribal histories of the eight poets on whom she focuses--Carter Revard, N. Scott Momaday, Simon Ortiz, Lance Henson, Roberta Hill, Linda Hogan, Wendy Rose, and Joy Harjo. A final chapter on the "new generation" considers younger poets such as Sherman Alexie, Cheryl Savageau, Tiffany Midge, and Elizabeth Woody, among others.

At the same time, Wilson's broad understanding of the literary heritage of East, West, and First nations allows her to place Native American poetry in global and historical context. Wilson points out Native American writers have been influenced by such well-known Western "canon" poets as Blake, Whitman, and Ginsberg. Her study further elucidates the clear mark that Native American literature, culture, and oral-poetic traditions have left on five centuries of British and American literature.

The Nature of Native American Poetry is a guidebook mapping the modern rhythms of our ancient literary landscape.


Norma C. Wilson is professor of English and American Indian Studies at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion. She is the co-editor of One-Room Country School: South Dakota Stories.


"Norma C. Wilson's introduction to the present state of Native American poetry appears at an appropriate moment, when a new millennium and a substantial body of evidence suggest that some stock can be taken in our judgment of what might be called the older generation of Native American poets, those who were born in the 1930s and 1940s and achieved their critical reputations in the last quarter of the twentieth century. . . . She is to be congratulated for having written a book, which actually can be read. It probably will not appear particularly sophisticated to those academics who seem to regard literary discussion as a self-indulgent excuse for mutual incomprehensibility, but those readers who really want and deserve a convenient introduction to what makes Native American poets unique and yet situated within a larger poetic and cultural tradition will owe a debt of gratitude to Norma Wilson for providing it."


World Literature Today

" . . . illuminating and reader-friendly . . . "


Native Peoples Magazine

" . . . (a) well-written book . . . Recommended for both academic and public collections, this book will serve generalists and students and scholars of Native American literature."



"Wilson's book shows how important Native American poetry is to the poetic literary genre. In her book she gives us a look at how Native poetry has been shaped by a people seperated from their land. In a broader sense of seperation from their land while still maintaining tribal tradition. These essays are intiguing."


North Dakota Quarterly

"This book serves as a usable addition to the growing list of studies in a flourishing area of contemporary literature."


South Dakota History

"Wilson delivers what every reader who picks her book up must want it for: an authentic sense of each poet's individual voice."


Great Plains Quarterly

6 x 9 in. 176 pages 8 halftones