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Gerald Vizenor's Haiku
(Full name Gerald Robert Vizenor, 1934–)

Native America can look to few more inventive or prolific contemporary writers than Gerald Vizenor. In this he draws upon a life as eventful in kind: mixedblood and passed-around city child in the Minneapolis of the Depression and World War II; enrolled Anishinaabe or Chippewa/Ojibway member of the White Earth Reservation, Minnesota; GI in the Japan whose haiku and other arts would become a lifelong interest; journalist on the Minneapolis Tribune; Visiting Professor at Tianjin University, China; and, currently, Professor of Native American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley.

Blackbirds scolding
One by one the turtles slip away
Alone again.

those stubborn flies
square dance across the grapefruit
honor your partner

redwing blackbirds
ride the reeds in a slough
curtain calls

calm in the storm
master basho soaks his feet
water striders

From the wind
Along with the scented cat
Spring the anemones.

The nails leave lines
On the old morning-glory fence
dripping dew.

plum blossoms
burst in a sudden storm
faces in a pool

march moon
shimmers down the sidewalk
snail crossing

hail stones
sound once or twice a summer
old school bell

bold nasturtiums
dress the barbed wire fences
down to the wild sea

acacia leaves
rain on the construction site
saved the bright trees

cocksure squirrels
break the ice at the window
raid the bird feeder

cedar cones
tumble in a mountain stream
letters from home

Under the crossing log
Fresh openings in the ice
Haloed with footprints

sunday morning
children waddle in the park
geese to water

In search of poems
How many trees have fallen?
Sound of the wind.

Did the old grey stump
Remember her strenght today,
Raising the moon vines.

In the dark grass
Her gentle hands alight,
Two fireflies.

Crack, crack
His hoe against the garden stones
Mother died.

November trees
Fine lines of delicate twigs:
The twilight sky.

In the darkness
Only the scent of Autumn:
Smouldering leaves.

april ice storm
new leaves freeze overnight
words fall apart

Even my shadow
Moves as I do in the moon
Listless October.

november storm
hearts painted on the bridge
crossed out


Like silver buttons
The moon comes through his shirt
Threadbare scarecrow.
(Empty Swings)

october moonrise
scarecrow in threadbare shirt
silver buttons


The charcoal
Stored all summer in the shed
Smelled of urine.
(Seventeen Chirps)

birch wood
stacked all summer in the shed
scent of urine


The red bucket
Frozen under the rain spout
Began to leak.
(Seventeen Chirps)

wooden buckets
frozen under the rain spouts
springs a fast leak

wooden bucket
frozen under the rain spout
springs a leak
(Envoy to Haiku)


His collections of haiku include:

Empty Swings: Haiku in English (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1967)
Matsushima: Pine Islands: Haiku (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1984)
Raising the Moon Vines: Original Haiku in English (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1964)
Seventeen Chirps: Haiku in English (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1965; rpt. 1968; unpaged)
Slight Abrasions: A Dialogue in Haiku with Jerome Downes (Minneapolis: Nodin Press, 1966)
Two Wings the Butterfly: Haiku Poems in English (St. Cloud MN: Privately Published, 1962, 31 p.)

His publications about haiku in journals:

The Envoy to Haiku, autobiographical essay in the Chicago Review, special issue, Vol. 39, No. 3/4, A North Pacific Rim Reader (1993), pp. 55-62

Our Land: Anishinaabe, haiku poems by Gerald Vizenor, photographs by Bjorn Sletto, Native Peoples magazine, Spring 1993.

An Introduction to Haiku, sixteen poems and and a critical introduction in Neeuropa, Summer, Spring, 1991, 1992.

Kimberly M. Blaeser
"Interior Dancers": Transformations of Vizenor's Poetic Vision

SAIL, Studies in American Indian Literatures, Series 2, Volume 9, Number 1, Spring 1997, pp. 3-15.

My insecurities were on the rise. I worried that
my life would be miserable, reduced to a thin
volume of poems.
--Gerald Vizenor, Interior Landscapes

Pulitzer-Prize-winning Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday has called Gerald Vizenor "a brilliant and evasive trickster figure" and "the supreme ironist among American Indian writers of the twentieth century" (Columbia Literary History of the United States). A. LaVonne Ruoff, scholar of Native American literature, has characterized Vizenor as a "formidable warrior in the word wars" and an "acute commentator on the hypocrisies of modern society" ("Woodland Word Warrior" 13). With a collection of over twenty single-authored works --the most well known among them in fiction or essay format--Vizenor the "trickster ironist word warrior" is less readily associated with his poetic works, works written mostly in the early years of his career. Yet Vizenor has been acknowledged as one of the foremost America haiku writers with two of his poems used to illustrate the form in Louis Untermeyer's The Pursuit of Poetry. Ruoff, too, has noted Vizenor's poetic achievements, praising his "skill in creating delicate and precise word pictures" (13). What links can there be between Vizenor the satirist and political activist, the Vizenor of trickster literature, and Vizenor the haiku master? What connections between the cutting sarcasm of his social criticism and the mystical reaches of his poetic voice? In fact, the haiku and free verse poems from this era introduce some of the language and many of the themes that became Vizenor's trademark. In addition, Vizenor's work in haiku and the reexpression of Anishinaabe dream songs has had important influence on his later style and philosophy of writing.
From 1960 to 1984, Vizenor published eight collections of poetry. Two (Born in the Wind, 1960, and Two Wings the Butterfly, 1962) were privately published; two (The Old Park Sleeper, 1961, and South of the Painted Stones, 1963) were issued by Callimachus; and four haiku collections (Raising the Moon Vines, 1964; Seventeen Chirps, 1964; Empty Swings, 1967; and Matsushima, 1984) were published by Nodin Press. Nodin, a press which Vizenor started and then sold after a year, also published Slight Abrasions: A Dialogue in Haiku between Vizenor and Jerome Downes in 1966. Vizenor's poetry, both haiku and free verse, has also been anthologized in such major collections as Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry, Songs From This Earth on Turtle's Back, Voices of the Rainbow, and The Haiku Anthology.
During the late sixties, Vizenor edited and "reexpressed" Ojibway dream songs originally collected by Frances Densmore. His work in this area was published by Nodin Press under the titles Summer in the Spring: Lyric Poems of the Ojibway in 1960 and anishinabe nagamon in 1970, and later reissued together with Ojibway stories in Summer in the Spring: Ojibwe Lyric Poems and Tribal Stories in 1981. Most recently, it was released in 1993 as a new edition by the University of Oklahoma Press, Summer in the Spring: Anishinaabe Lyric Poems and Stories.
From the outset, the Anishinaabe author has always exhibited a multi-faceted voice. His poetry contains in perhaps the purest form kernels of the wide range of voices and subjects which populate the Vizenor canon. From the caustic remembrance of "indian agents / pacing off allotments twenty acres short" in "Family Photograph" (Voices 37-39) to the playful image of "fat green flies" who "square dance across the grapefruit" in a haiku from Matsushima (unpaged), from the tragic account of a woman's suicide in "Unhappy Diary Days" (Voices 32-33) to the celebration of the survival of spirit in "Raising the Flag" (Voices 42-43), Vizenor's voice and poetic vision have always reflected the dynamic reality of Anishinaabe experience, contemporary and historical. His poetry, like his prose, issues at once lament, loud laughter, biting criticism, natural wisdom, and spiritual insight. He is, within his poetry, at once ironist, trickster, word warrior, and tribal dreamer.
In his introduction to Matsushima, Vizenor himself recognizes the multi-voiced quality of his work when he identifies the "four interior dancers" of his haiku dreamscape:1

The soul dancer in me celebrates transformations and intuitive connections between our bodies and the earth, animals, birds, ocean, creation; the street dancer in me is the trickster, the picaresque survivor in the wordwars, at common human intersections, in a classroom, at a supermarket, on a bus; the word dancer in me is the imaginative performer, the mask bearer, the shield holder, the teller in mythic stories at the {5} treeline; and the last dancer who practices alone, in silence, to remember the manners on the street, the gestures of the soul, and the words beneath the earth. (unpaged)

Soul dancer, trickster, mask bearer, and silent dancer--critics, too, have recognized the "transformational voice" of Vizenor.2 A reading of his poetry illustrates the early presence of that voice in all its manifestations as well as the continuity between the early poetry and later prose works.

I. Where Vizenor Soaked His Feet

Perhaps most enduring among the links between works in the Vizenor canon is the immediacy of his connection with the historical reality. The history of place, person, culture, or nation is intertwined with his own experiences. History in Vizenor is sentient, accessible, present tense. When, for example, he writes his collection of haiku about the "pine islands" of Japan, Matsushima, he records his own encounters within the context of the earlier observations by haiku master Matsuo Basho, places his work in the historical and literary milieu which contains within it the pulsing soul of that earlier exchange.
In his introduction to Matsushima: Pine Islands, Vizenor writes admiringly of Basho, records biographical information about the "master haiku poet," quotes Basho's The Narrow Road to the Deep North (which also was written about Matsushima), and finally, characterizes Basho's writing and Basho's relationship with the "pine islands" (both of which became part of the inspiration for Vizenor's own collection). Quoting from Makoto Ueda, Vizenor tells the reader how "at Matsushima" Basho himself "thought of bygone poets who had sung of the beauty of the island scenery . . . to commune with the memory of those with whom he felt he shared the same attitude toward life" (unpaged). Though those earlier poets were "dead and gone," wrote Ueda, Basho is thought to have felt that "the surroundings were imbued with their presence and gave inspiration to the sensitive visitor." Similarly, we are to understand, Basho's work, attitude, and presence enriches Vizenor's own experience of the pine islands.
In his autobiography, Interior Landscapes, Vizenor writes plainly of the inspiration he felt: "Matsuo Basho visited Matsushima and wrote in his haibun travel diaries about the moon over the pine islands. We were there three hundred years later and remembered the master haiku poet" (145). In a more recent essay, "The Envoy to Haiku" (The Chicago Review, 1993), he also claims the connection: "Basho visited Matsushima and wrote in his haibun diaries about the moon over the pine islands, the treasures of the nation. I was there three hundred years later, touched by the same moon and the master haiku poet" (59). Indeed, young Vizenor may have felt himself {6} heir to some kind of poetic or spiritual lineage in the work he was doing in haiku at that time, and may have consciously sought to carry that style or state of mind into his later prose work. He mentions in both the introduction to Matsushima and in "The Envoy to Haiku" that Basho was eighteen when he wrote his first haiku. He tells us in "Envoy," "I was eighteen years old and saw haiku in calligraphy that summer for the first time, and read translations of poems by Kobayashi Issa and Matsuo Basho. That presence of haiku, more than any other literature, touched my imagination" (57). Vizenor began writing haiku that summer during his eighteenth year, and he notes in "Envoy," "My poems and stories would arise as shadows" (57).
In Matsushima, Vizenor describes the seventeenth-century Japanese writer's work this way:

Basho emphasized commonplace experiences in haiku, and the use of ordinary words in a serious manner. Through seasonal changes and elements from the environment his haibun and haiku connect the reader to the earth and to shared experiences in nature. (unpaged)

In his various descriptions of and discussions about haiku and "haiku manner," Vizenor often characterizes the ideal in haiku similarly to the way he characterizes Basho's work. He says, for example, that the words in haiku are "transformed in . . . simple experiences," that haiku "ascribe the nature world," that they "ascribe the seasons," are "earth toned," and that there "is a visual dreamscape in haiku which is similar to the sense of natural human connections to the earth" ("An Introduction to Haiku" 63; Matsushima unpaged; "Envoy" 58). Thus, rather than abhor any suggestion of inspiration or influence, Vizenor in fact celebrates the connection to Basho and his haiku tradition as clearly as he will later celebrate tribal inspirations. In "Envoy" he speaks of contemplating Basho's most famous haiku (an ancient pond / a frog jumps in / sound of water) and records the poem he was inspired to write in response:

calm in the storm
master basho soaks his feet
water striders (60)

This poem, also the first in the Matsushima collection, expresses the clear sense Vizenor has of Basho's presence in the very landscape. The prose "envoy" he would later write to accompany the haiku alludes to the enlightenment that comes with the poet's moment of contemplation of earth voices and Basho's spirit blowing through like the wind:

The striders listen to the wind, the creation of sound that is heard and seen in the motion of water; the wind teases the tension and natural balance on the surface of the world.
The same wind that moves the spiders teases the poets. (61)

Basho is as important a part of the physical reality, as inevitable a point of reference, for Vizenor in Matsushima as is Henry Rowe Schoolcraft at the Mississippi headwaters. Vizenor acknowledges the historical imprint of the man falsely credited with the discovery of the source of the Mississippi in a fashion remarkably similar to that in which he recognized the haiku master's more benevolent presence in the Japanese islands. In "White Earth Reservation 1980," Vizenor depicts northern Minnesota and the overlaid presence of Schoolcraft:

lake itasca dancers
ten thousand winters at the woodland rim
tribal families
bearwalks at the source
northern lights
where schoolcraft soaked his feet (Bruchac, Songs 263)

In the preceding stanza of the same poem he writes of "invented histories" and "shadows" that "seep from the concrete." From the larger context of Vizenor's work, we know that Schoolcraft is for him part of, indeed symbolic of, those "invented histories" that cannot but "seep" into the present. Vizenor later writes of Schoolcraft, for example, in The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories where he characterizes the treaty commissioner and Indian agent as an "arrogant" man who "invented the 'Algic tribes'" and used his tribal acquaintances in his search for copper and for status as an Indian expert (17, 41-42).
But the historical milieu of Vizenor's work is populated by a diverse and complex range of presences. The same stanza that summons a recollection of Schoolcraft, for example, introduces the long native investment in place--"ten thousand winters at the woodland rim." Other passages in the poem recall "federal agents," "medicine bundles," "mission ruins," "totems," "jesuits," and "general allotment." They also allude to the natural history of the place: "the late october sun," "river moons," and "northern lights." Indeed, poems like "White Earth Reservation" characterize for us the layers of historical reality that combine to create the multifaceted place and voice that become the shifting baroque of Vizenor's work. The places where these shadows or layers of history seep from the earth and pool--White Earth, Matsushima, Sand Creek, and later China--are the metaphorical places where Vizenor soaked his feet.

II. The Same Moon, The Same Wind

Just as Vizenor acknowledges the spiritual and historical intersections {8} in the experiences that inspire his poetry, we can trace the intersections between his poetry and prose, the transformations of those poetic moments into larger works of prose. Not only do the same visionary winds blow through the Vizenor canon, but his early poetic engagement left its mark on his prose form as well; story dynamics repeat themselves, phrases and scenes reappear in multiple echoes and transformations, and the same thematic moons shine through.
For example, Vizenor writes in Matsushima and in "Envoy" of Matsuo Basho's haibun, which he describes as "a form of prose 'written in the spirit of haiku'" (Matsushima unpaged). The haibun might be recognized, of course, as a source of inspiration for Vizenor's recent experiments in prose envoys (such as the one previously quoted). In fact, the very idea of the haibun form, taken together with Vizenor's extensive work in haiku itself, might also have exerted a more broad influence on his prose creations as might his involvement in "reexpressing" tribal dream songs.
Both haiku and dream songs are tightly constructed poetic units with vivid images (often of nature) and with little commentary, meant to transport the reader beyond the words to an experience or what Vizenor calls a "dreamscape." There are many instances where Vizenor's prose resembles the haiku structure, even more where it functions in a similar fashion: presenting tight imagery, setting scenes in nature, withholding commentary. Vizenor says his envoys combine "experiences in haiku with natural reason in tribal literature" and he calls them "a new haiku hermeneutics" ("Envoy" 60). Indeed, the same might be said for other passages in his prose. One of the best examples comes from the opening of Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart and actually fits the seventeen-syllable, three-line form of haiku (although not the classic five-seven-five pattern): "Cedarfair circus in the morning. Clown crows. Incense from moist cedar" (1). The dynamics of the passage also closely resemble the working of much of Vizenor's haiku as it first evokes a sense of time and place, next adds the presence of animal life and a tribal consciousness, and finally, enlivens the scene with spiritual significance.3 Vizenor's poetic experience seems here to have clearly affected the form of his prose.
The vision of interrelationships apparent in Vizenor's blending of haiku and tribal inspirations in poetry and prose, together with his sense of historical events, stories and cultures merging, create a unique vision that often bridges his movement from poetry to prose. Perhaps the blurring of experiential boundaries eases the crossover of genre divisions. The legacy of the crane clan and of his murdered father William Clement Vizenor, for example, loom large for Vizenor. They inspire ealry poems like "Long After the Rivers Change" (Tvedten 46) where Vizenor exhorts, "Breathe again young Indian / . . . With the sacred way of the Crane / And praise of your {9} father Keeshkemun!"4 They inspire later poems like "Family Photograph" (Rosen 37-39) which alludes to the picture of young Vizenor and his father, a photograph used on the cover of Vizenor's autobiography, Interior Landscapes. In "Family Photograph" Vizenor writes of Clement Vizenor: "among trees / my father was a spruce;" and he traces in his father's life a pattern typical of many Anishinaabe people of that era: "corded for tribal pulp / he left white earth reservation / colonial genealogies / taking up the city at twenty-three." Here Vizenor recognizes in the fate of the timber resources and the Anishinaabe people the same "clear-cutting" by greedy colonial interests, and linking the two metaphorically, he pictures his father "running / low through the stumps at night." The imagery reappears in poems such as "White Earth Reservation 1980" ("general allotment stumps") (Bruchac 262-63) and in a poem called "Tribal Stumps" (Rosen 332) where Vizenor writes of the "tribal mixed bloods" as "new warriors" and describes their nightly battles: "my father returns / with all the mixed bloods / tribal stumps / from the blood-soaked beams of the city." Later, of course, Vizenor again links tribal people and their timber resources (this time sacred cedar trees) in his first novel, Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart, where the greed of timber interests becomes one of the key plot elements.
Despite the sometimes dark vision of history Vizenor records, in his works his tribal "heirs" also inherit hope. In "Family Photograph" the hope actually comes from belief in the power of interrelationships or continuance and rests with the mixedblood or crossblood poet himself: "the new spruce / half white / half immigrant." The same sense of connection, of tribal and familial legacy is expressed in the opening genealogically-shaped chapter of Vizenor's autobiography, and the merging of identity seems well served by a merging of genres when the poem "Family Photograph" itself appears in the third chapter in revised form as "The Last Photograph." The very title of that chapter, "Measuring My Blood," comes from a line which appears in both versions of the poem and alludes to young Clement Beaulieu's sexual encounters with various women in the city and implies, of course, the passage of his blood legacy to his son. Vizenor's repeated merging of his father's urban murder story with that of the tribal trickster Naanabozho's encounter with the evil gambler (treated frequently in Vizenor's prose) also has an early manifestation in "Family Photograph" where he depicts his father as "taking up the city and losing at cards." Again, this dark vision is tempered in Vizenor. The loss, we come to understand, is only temporary since the saga of the Evil Gambler continues with the next generation, notably our trickster poet's prose persona in such works as Earthdivers: Tribal Narratives on Mixed Descent and Wordarrows: Indians and Writers in the New Fur Trade.
As a reading of even these few poems indicates, the crossovers between and imaginative commingling of tribal mythic accounts, historical stories, family history, and personal stories, as well as the blending of experiences and stories from several cultural sources--characteristic Vizenor techniques--surface early in his poetry. With the seeds of Vizenor's techniques, we also find numerous verbal and thematic Vizenor "signatures" in his poetry. Links between his poetry and prose include such classic "Vizenorese" as "at the treelines," "at the seams," "culture cultists," "at the centerfolds," "the little people," and "invented histories." His poems include his usage of phrases like "touchwood," "downtown on the reservation," and "empty swings," each of which was also used as a title for a book or article. They include scenes like the encounter with a tribal women who sees the vision of a sacred flag ("Raising the Flag," Rosen 42-43). Culled from Vizenor's experience while executive director of the American Indian Employment and Guidance Center in Minneapolis, this incident was to be reexpressed in several prose versions by Vizenor over the years beginning in his introduction to Wordarrows in 1978. Similarly, the image of a tribal veteran from the poem "Indians at the Guthrie" was to be fleshed out in various versions of a short story called, in its 1984 variation, "Rattling Hail Ceremonial: Cultural Word Wars Downtown on the Reservation." Likewise, the multiple references to Sand Creek in Vizenor's poetry and his symbolic use of that massacre find fuller development in "Sand Creek Survivors" in his 1981 Earthdivers.
Many of these phrases, scenes, and poems also introduce important themes, of course; and it is in the early treatment of what were to become his major preoccupations that Vizenor's poetry offers perhaps the richest insights. Naanabozho, the tribal trickster whose appearance in character and dynamic often serves to distinguish Vizenor's prose, makes several short appearances in his poems as well. In "White Earth Reservation 1980," for example, Vizenor writes, "tribal tricksters / roam on the rearview mirror" (Bruchac 262), and "Auras on the Interstates" invites us to "follow the trickroutes / homewardbound in darkness" (Bruchac 265-66). But it is in Vizenor's haiku where the "street dancer. . . the trickster, the picaresque survivor in the wordwars" (Matsushima unpaged) makes his presence most apparent, offering a trickster perspective, an illuminating twist, an echo of our own folly, or an invitation to reconsider our actions. In this haiku from Empty Swings, for example, we learn a lesson from the scolding blackbirds who earn their isolation:

Blackbirds scolding
One by one the turtles slip away
Alone again. (unpaged)

{11} These kinds of playful revelations appear throughout Vizenor's haiku collections as they do in his later essays and, of course, his "trickster fiction." Later prose works also advance the important theoretical bases for Vizenor's strong belief in the power of trickster humor, but these early embodiments remain invaluable in understanding and tracing the development of Vizenor's "trickster signature."
Other classic Vizenor themes also find first voice in his poetry. In work after work, for example, he decries the destruction of resources, the "wordwound" artificiality of our existence, and the museumization of the romantic invented Indian. His poems, one after another, lament the same: "Minnesota Camp Grounds" reports how "white armies / claim the woodland lakes" and "praise aluminum and ice / plastic flowers" while butterflies are "dead on the grill of a brown camero," deer are "imprisoned" and lake water, too, is "dead" (Bruchac 265). "Auras on the Interstates" tells of the displacement of families and memories as "trucks whine through our families / places of conception" and "governments raze / half the corners we have known" (Bruchac 265). "Franklin Avenue Bridge" tells us "the river is dying" from "poison rains" and "pollution" which "storms / frothing down the sewer" while "children of plastic flowers / gather under the bridge / retouching old photographs" (Niatum 57). "Museum Bound" shows "oral traditions" depicted like "nations out of time," juxtaposes "sacred visions" and "coin returns," and finally claims "we are museum bound" (Foss 320). Those familiar with the larger body of Vizenor's works will find any number of connections in these few phrases culled from Vizenor's poems. Note, for example, how many times he later writes of the "retouched photographs" of Edward Curtis and the rich critical discussions that he develops about tribal identity.5 Note, too, the frequent statements he has made about the importance of "interior landscapes" and the necessity to attach to something other than the physical, which might be destroyed beyond all recognition.6
In a career already spanning over thirty years, it is surprising to find such close continuity between early and later works. Perhaps most significant among the continuities Vizenor's work has maintained from his early haiku and poetry to his later fiction and other prose works, is the sense of balance between the tragic conditions and the determined survival of tribal people, between the despair of genocide, murder, suicide, and natural destruction, and the hope of trickster humor, tribal stories, memory, dreams, and change. Although it will take many other forms in his work, the notion of survival which finds expression here in his poetry still aligns neatly with Vizenor's philosophical vision. The possibility of survival he claims in such poems as "Anishinabe Grandmothers," where he acknowledges both the pain and the transformation of the pain: "the scars of reservation life / turning {12} under with age" (Rosen 44-45). But the balance of survival, he warns, only comes with recognition of and the aftertaste of the evil, the past, the pain, as he shows in the powerful last image from "North to Milwaukee": "the phlegm of last rites / stains the sleeves of the survivors" (Rosen 42). Still, in accepting their reality, Vizenor believes his new mixedbloods go forward "tasting the rain / singing / the world will change" ("Anishinabe Grandmothers," Rosen 45). These themes of change and tribal survival form and reform like active molecules in ever new configurations throughout Vizenor's many published works continuing the balancing act that is survival. Indeed, the trickster mixedblood survivor becomes one of the most recognizable characters in Vizenor's fiction even as his environs change from reservation to urban America, from America to as far afield as China. The specifics of survival change as well, but the fundamental motion originates within the pendulum of Vizenor's poetry.
Throughout Vizenor's works, poetic voices waver, transforming, finding balance between the word warrior ironist and the delicate painter of word pictures. Very early poems like those found in the 1971 An American Indian Anthology give us a glimpse of the apprentice poet. Stylized and filled with highly inflected language, they project the most romantic voice a reader will likely find in Vizenor. "The Moon Upon a Face Again," for example, pleads "Caste not these Indians; / Potawatomi, Ottawa, Seneca, / From their Northern lands; / Their dreams to purge the winds," and pictures the Native peoples "Now in columns on their knees, / Restless on the polished oak" (47). That early voice matures quickly and develops the range of its expression, achieving the beautiful subtlety of a haiku like this one from Matsushima:

plum blossoms
burst in a sudden storm
faces in a pool (unpaged)

Ultimately, the satirical voice of poems like "Thumbing Old Magazines" where Vizenor exposes unflattering images of "soft white money men / mothered from private schools" joins the gentle voice of "Unhappy Diary Days" where Vizenor, while depicting the surrender to suicide of a woman with terminal illness, manages to evoke both the beauty and fragility of life through simple descriptions like these: "shadows falling / plum colors of the sun / beneath her eyes" (Rosen 36-37, 32-33). Taken together the many approaches and verbal tones combine to create complex reverberations. Likewise, over the years Vizenor's poetic vision has transformed itself, singing itself into the prose of his novels, stories and essays, but always retaining the echoes of each "interior dancer" and its poetic origin.



1 Curiously, just as Vizenor identifies the four "interior dancers" of his haiku, Lucien Stryk has noted how haiku poetry in the Zen tradition has four dominant moods: "sabi (isolation), wabi (poverty), aware (impermanence), or yugen (mystery)" (Porterfield 125).

2See, for example, Patricia Haseltine, "The Voices of Gerald Vizenor: Survival Through Transformation" (American Indian Quarterly 9.1 [Winter 1985]: 31-47).

3I discuss Vizenor's haiku and haibun more extensively in Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition and in "The Multiple Traditions of Gerald Vizenor's Haiku Poetry."

4Vizenor has traced his descent from Keeshkemun, one of the eighteenth- century leaders of the Anishinaabe crane clan.

5For an example of Vizenor's discussion of Edward Curtis's work, see "Socioacupuncture: Mythic Reversals and the Striptease in Four Scenes" in Crossbloods. For more discussion of tribal identity, see Manifest Manners.

6See, for example, Vizenor's comments on this subject in "Follow the Trickroutes, An Interview" in Joseph Bruchac's Survival This Way.


Blaeser, Kimberly. Gerald Vizenor: Writing in the Oral Tradition. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1996.

---. "The Multiple Traditions of Gerald Vizenor's Haiku Tradition." New Voices in Native American Literary Criticism. Ed. Arnold Krupat. Washington DC: Smithsonian Institution P, 1993.

Bruchac, Joseph, ed. Songs From This Earth on Turtle's Back: Contemporary American Indian Poetry. Greenfield Center NY: Greenfield Review, 1983.

---. Survival This Way: Interviews with American Indian Poets. Tucson: Sun Tracks and the U of Arizona P, 1987.

Foss, Philip, ed. The Clouds Threw This Light: Contemporary Native American Poetry. Santa Fe: Institute of American Indian Arts, 1983.

Niatum, Duane, ed. Harper's Anthology of 20th-Century Native American Poetry. New York: Harper & Row, 1988.

Porterfield, Susan, ed. Zen, Poetry, the Art of Lucien Stryk. Athens OH: Swallow/Ohio UP, 1993.

Rosen, Kenneth, ed. Voices of the Rainbow. New York: Viking, 1975.

Ruoff, A. LaVonne Brown. "Woodland Word Warrior: An Introduction to the Works of Gerald Vizenor." MELUS 13.1/2 (Spring-Summer 1986): 13-43.

Tvedten, Benet, ed. An American Indian Anthology. Marvin ND: Blue Cloud Abbey, 1971.

Untermeyer, Louis, ed. The Pursuit of Poetry. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1970.

van den Hevel, Cor, ed. The Haiku Anthology. New York: Doubleday, 1974.

Vizenor, Gerald. anishinabe nagamon: Songs of the People. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1965.

---. Born in the Wind. Minneapolis: Privately Published, 1960.

---. Crossbloods: Bone Courts, Bingo, and Other Reports. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1990.

---. Darkness in Saint Louis Bearheart. Saint Paul: Truck, 1978; rpt. Bearheart: The Heirship Chronicles. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1990.

---. Earthdivers: Tribal Narratives on Mixed Descent. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1981.

---. "The Envoy to Haiku." The Chicago Review 39.3/4 (1993): 55-62.

---. Empty Swings: Haiku in English. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1967.

---. Interior Landscapes: Autobiographical Myths and Metaphors. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1990.

---. "An Introduction to Haiku" (sixteen poems and a critical introduction). Neeuropa (Spring-Summer 1991-92): 63-67.

---. Manifest Manners: Postindian Warriors of Survivance. Hanover NH: Wesleyan UP (by UP of New England), 1994.

---. Matsushima: Pine Islands. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1984.

---. The Old Park Sleepers: A Poem. Minneapolis: Callimachus, 1961.

---. The People Named the Chippewa: Narrative Histories. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1984.

---. Raising the Moon Vines: Original Haiku in English. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1964.

---. "Rattling Hail Ceremonial: Cultural Word Wars Downtown on the Reservation." Words in the Blood: Contemporary Indian Writers of North and South America. Ed. Jamake Highwater. New York: New American Library, 1984. 131-36.

---. Seventeen Chirps: Haiku in English. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1964.

---. Slight Abrasions: A Dialogue in Haiku with Jerome Downes. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1966.

---. South of the Painted Stones: Poems. Minneapolis: Callimachus, 1963.

---. Summer in the Spring: Ojibwe Lyric Poems and Tribal Stories. Minneapolis: Nodin, 1981. (A revised edition of materials earlier published in Summer in the Spring (1965), anishinabe adisokan (1970), and anishinabe nagamon (1970); reprinted as Summer in the Spring: Anishinaabe Lyric Poems and Stories, New {15} Edition. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1993.

---. Two Wings the Butterfly: Haiku Poems in English. St. Cloud MN: Privately Published, 1962.

---. Wordarrows: Indians and Whites in the New Fur Trade. Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1978.