Wednesday, April 21, 2010

a poem by Sherman Alexie, "At Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School"

I guess I'm a little distraught about our discussion on "Do Not Go Gentle." I don't think I'm alone when I say, I'm also a little distraught about the story itself and the significance of Chocolate Thunder. While I hadn't read any of Alexie's work before this class, I've since started reading his book Ten Little Indians, from which "Do Not Go Gentle" comes, for another class about Gender Studies in Western Texts (ENGL 175) as well as his other poems in The Norton. I found his writing to be, well, awesome. While you may not agree with me, I believe Alexie deserves some more positive attention than that we are giving him. One of his poems I found particularly moving, as it, along with a lot of Alexie's works, addresses issues which Native Americans face in the US today regarding tradition, ethnicity, appreciation of ceremony and the land. Here it is reprinted:

At a Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School
from the photograph by Skeet McAuley (above)

the football field rises
to meet the mesa. Indian boys
gallop across the grass, against

the beginnings of their body.
On those Saturday afternoons,
unbroken horses gather to watch

their sons growing larger
in the small parts of the world.
Everyone is the quarterback.

There is no thin man in a big hat
writing down all the names
in two columns: winners and losers.

This is the eternal football game,
Indians versus Indians. All the Skins
in the wooden bleachers fancydancing,

stomping red dust straight down
into nothing. Before the game is over,
the eighth-grade girls' track team

comes running, circling the field,
their thin and brown legs echoing
wild horses, wild horses, wild horses.

From The Business of Fancydancing by Sherman Alexie, Hanging Loose Press

A Tribal School is a school controlled by the Bureau of Indian Affairs in order to integrate Native American culture into education. Considering many Native Americans were forced into government run Boarding Schools during the early 20th century in order to assimilate them into 'white' culture, Tribal Schools seem like a way to bring back tradition and culture lost through previous attempts of assimilation.

Prof. Fisher touched on this briefly in class, but I was wondering if anyone had any thoughts about the fact that all of the post 9/11 writers and texts we've been reading relate to, in some way, the stand point of minorities or what is sometimes identified as "the other," now that we've started reading Zigzagger along with Alexie and Lahiri. Or thoughts about what kind of impact culture has on Alexie's works. Or any general reactions to this poem.


  1. I, of course, have some thoughts. But I'll wait to see what other people are thinking before submitting my ideas.

  2. It is pretty amazing that Alexie can write a story about an enormous black vibrator helping to bring a child back to life, and have it discussed in an academic setting. I am consistently surprised by what is now considered to be academic. Can't say that I saw this coming. However, I liked that about this keeps us on edge.

    For the record, although on the surface his story may seem absurd, I think he brings up valuable criticism of our society, and how we handle difficult situations. If running around with a vibrator helps you deal with a child in a coma, go right ahead and do it.

  3. yea that's a really good point. even Proulx had some moments in Postcards where I felt similarly towards the text, like something really absurd is going on and yet its somehow helping the character, and this making a commentary on society. It's a wonder that they've both won Pen/Faulkner Awards and yet they seem to be simultaneously highly praised and deeply criticized.

    Alexie actually just won his Pen/Faulkner this year.

  4. Is the question, why are we reading so many minority readers for out "post 9/11" section?

    If so, maybe it's because after 9/11 the U.S. went so nuts about pro-America stuff people kind of forgot about minorities being a part of that American image. Especially because it was "the other" (foreigners) who perpetrated this crime against "us." Maybe this reading reminds us that they're here, still trying to find their place.

    This week was the 15th anniversary of the Oklahoma City Bombings and I'm reminded of how confused people were when they found out it was a born and bred, U.S. military serving, American, Timothy McVeigh who was attacking America.

  5. I don't remember who mentioned it in class, but someone said something along the lines of "I noticed that all his other poems were about the Native American identity, so I was confused as to why they chose to put this into the Norton".

    I agree with this. "Do Not Go Gentle" could have been written by an author of ANY background, it was not a subject matter exclusive to Native Americans (that's for sure). Whereas Lahiri wrote about contrasting cultures against the backdrop of the distinctly American Boston and Munoz writes about latino youths, Alexie's story does not offer any distinct Native American narrative, other than a few details and vocab words.

    In the grand scheme of things, could the Norton be trying to point out the progress of the integration of minorities in American culture? Alexie's characters are fully functional, Lahiri's are exploring each other's cultural similarities and differences, and Munoz's are not inhibited by being gay or Hispanic. They are all simply going about their lives.