POETRY

The Death of Sitting Bear: New and Selected Poems

Harper. Mar. 2020. 192p. ISBN 9780062961150. $28.99. POETRY
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This volume of new and selected poems arrives as Momaday approaches his 86th year, and, as such, ought to be treated as a summation of his work in poetic form. Momaday’s Pulitzer Prize–winning novel, House Made of Dawn (1968), ushered Native American literature into the American literary consciousness, and Momaday has remained a crucial voice and presence since. As the poet says in the preface, his early work reflects Kiowa oral tradition, but he has absorbed numerous influences, including Emily Dickinson, Yvor Winters, and Thom Gunn, and the fruit is seen in this immensely varied collection—including prose poems, haiku, free lyric, epigram, and unrhymed iambic pentameter. Witness the eloquence of “The Dragon of Saint-Bertrand-de-Comminges” (“Now pastoral the military ruin;/ The haze of the valley is sweet-scented.”) The poetic tribute to Kiowa chief Sitting Bear ideally reconciles Momaday’s heritage with his elegance in iambic hexameter.
VERDICT An admirable capstone to a distinguished literary career, this splendid selection should be a treasure for Momaday’s readers and an excellent introduction for those new to Native American writing.

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