American Writing- Just the Beginning!

Thank you all for your keen participation in this new unit. We are off to a great start with a survey of the Soul of America (text is now in the library -Close Reserve) and today American Indian Writing. Both topics are closely tied together. The spiritual emptiness of contemporary American culture seems to be balanced by the spiritual richness of what is left of American Indian culture. One of the strongest spokespeople for this is Oren Lyons who we listened to in his short explanation of what he had learned from this father – despite his limited formal education; the talk was entitled “We are part of the earth” . If this has caught your imagination it is worth listening also to Oren Lyons’ PBS interview.  There is such a richness of insight and understanding in this material about how important our relationship to the land is. We can learn so much from this tradition that could help our planet in future generations.

What I also found particularly interesting is the way in which Native American Indian writing, in its clear subversion of the dominant materialistic culture, is so in harmony with the “European” origin writers that we are studying as part of main-stream American literature: Emerson, Thoreau, Whitman, Dickinson.  I was so pleased especially to hear that Zitkala Ša -Gertrude Simmons Bonnin- (1876-1938) was voicing almost the same sentiments about conventional religion as Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). I wonder indeed whether Zitkala Ša actually read Emily? I somehow doubt it, but the resonances are there:


Some keep the Sabbath going to Church – (236)

Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –
I keep it, staying at Home –
With a Bobolink for a Chorister –
And an Orchard, for a Dome –
Some keep the Sabbath in Surplice –
I, just wear my Wings –
And instead of tolling the Bell, for Church,
Our little Sexton – sings.
God preaches, a noted Clergyman –
And the sermon is never long,
So instead of getting to Heaven, at last –
I’m going, all along.
Here is Zitkala:
A wee child toddling in a wonder world, I prefer to their dogma my excursions into the natural gardens where the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds, the rippling of mighty waters, and the sweet breathing of flowers. If this is Paganism, then at present, at least, I am a Pagan.(1108)
So from these two weeks let us explore some blog topics that might excite your imaginations:
1/ Compare these two photographs (Emily and Zitkala). Write an imaginary comparison of what each of them is thinking.
2/ Take a part of Emily’s poem (eg “Some keep the Sabbath going to Church –” ) or of Zitkala’s writing (eg “the voice of the Great Spirit is heard in the twittering of birds”) and, using the selected line or phrase, write your own poem or prose paragraph as the starting point for your own reflection on where the “Great Spirit” or the “Sabbath” is alive for you. 
3/ “The delight alone or in the rush of the streets, or along the fields and hill-sides”. Use this line from Walt Whitman’s Song of Myself to compose your own short poem about what most delights you in and through your own experience of being alive. 
1/ Can we apply the Native American sense of the importance of nature to make our own lives more whole and meaningful?
2/ Explore the reasons why Whitman might have called his book of poems Leaves of Grass. 
3/ Select any one of Emily Dickinson’s shorter poems and try to show how her idiosyncratic use of punctuation and word choice maximises what she is trying to say. 
Create your own topic on any aspect of the literature we have been exploring over the last two weeks. Where possible try to link it to your own personal experience. 
Remember that you will be starting peer reviews the week after next and it is most important that you post up your URL in LEO so that your blog can become part of the class conversation.
Young Whitman:


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