Oscar has a write-up on Linda Hogan‘s reading and talk yesterday evening at Stanford in the Feminist Studies Program’s Indigenous Identity in Diaspora. He brings up a very good point about Ms. Hogan’s use of “human,” and I should add that it seems qualifying “human” for her poetic speakers and voices indicates that her speakers know the entire world is alive, every rock, every grouping or family of aspen trees such that if you cut down one tree, the rest will die. The actors and active agents in her work are not only humans, but the earth itself, the healing clay, and deities that are animal spirits, such that to use “human” is necessary for clarification.
True, we don’t qualify ourselves as humans enough in our poetry; this means we take our humanity as a given, and I think this is a marker of privilege, not to think our humanity can be contested. Certainly, as a Filipino I don’t have to reach back too far into American history to cite specific examples of our humanity contested, erased. So then I wonder now whether I ought to be writing humanity with more urgency and certainty. Or maybe I already have been.
Ms. Hogan spoke of a returning of a diasporic community, many of her Chickasaw community’s and her own personal return to their land and traditions, from elsewhere throughout the country. She is now back in Oklahoma, back in a place where the earth smells like it does no where else. Seven Sisters is the street named after her grandmother and sisters; she is meeting cousins she’s only just now discovered. Here again is this belonging to the land, replanting one’s roots in the recultivated land. So there she is, back in Tishomingo, participating with the tribal body in building a school and affordable housing. I think we can also think of her poetic use of “human” through her community work.
Further in terms of writing process, and given that she is a multi-genre writer, Cherrie Moraga asked her how and when she decides in which genre to write, and is it based upon subject matter or otherwise. Ms. Hogan responded that genre chooses you. Poetry is weaving, and in poetry, use of language is so condensed or concentrated, and you can communicate so much in such a small amount of space. Her poetry is contained by a sense of incantation of word, an echo of so many world mythologies in which the world was spoken or dreamed into existence. Alternately, the novel, she says, is linear, and you can provide a larger space for a narrative to gradually unravel. She didn’t differentiate between novel and non-fiction, but did say a few things about her memoir, in which she decided to pan out from the strictly individual/personal and instead, compose a frame of her community’s natural and historical world. Regarding being “human,” I don’t think she means it in an individual sense.
I could’ve listened to her talk all night. She had so much story, which she rolled through, weaving tangents into tangents into a large cohesive cloth. At one point, she apologized for getting carried away with some backstory on her research on environmental contamination in Florida, the poisoned alligators, birds, panthers in the Everglades. She had begun by telling us a story of a native man who killed a Florida panther, thinking perhaps by its eyeshine at night, that it was a deer. He then barbecued it and ate it (why waste a perfectly good animal, I think), and then was arrested for poaching an endangered species. This is where talk of contamination came in, as to why the panthers were no longer reproducing.
Well, I could go on, but will end with this: having major publishers in New York, Ms. Hogan tells us, can be challenging. She’s told her publishers that she wanted cover art by Native American artists, to which publishers have responded: there are no Native American artists. In her place, I’d probably throw a chair, so I admire that she works so steadily and prolifically through American publishing industry bullshit, prioritizing her Chickasaw community’s needs, talking to students, and opening herself up to young writers like us. I will be sending her a copy of Poeta, and I am overjoyed that she’s interested in reading my work.
Addendum: I just remembered now, another poem Ms. Hogan read was about a move back to the use of canoes or kayaks made with animal skins stretched around skeletons of the willow tree. The boat or craft itself is alive; it breathes. These animal skin boats are more easily navigable than the modern fiberglass counterparts, and so the boatmakers are relearning this old craft that they’d previously set aside (for various reasons). This is also a part of the returning to the indigenous in the modern world.