Sherman Alexie's Poetry Research Paper

Pages: 4 (1351 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 3  ·  File: .docx  ·  Level: Doctorate  ·  Topic: Native Americans

Sherman Alexie: The Poetry of the Native American Experience

Sherman Alexie is the most famous Native American writer writing in English today. His style is characterized by an irreverence that masks a much more serious intention. Of Alexie's work, it has been said: "A reader enters the land of MTV and renascent AIM: a cartoon Pocahontas meets Beavis and Butt-head at the forest's edge, Sitting Bull takes on Arnold Schwarzenegger at Wounded Knee '73. The Last Real Indian has a few last words" (Lincoln, "Futuristic hip"). Alexie's work is deliberately designed to undercut stereotypes of Native Americans. His fierce intelligence and modernity belies the concept that Indians are somehow primitive; his fluid use of contemporary references makes a bold claim that Indians are anything but a people of America's past.

What does Alexie want to see within the ranks of Indian writers? "I want us to write about the way we live." He wants Indian writers to write from their own lived experiences, not some nostalgic and romanticized notion of what it means to be Indian. "When I see words like the Creator, Father Sky, Mother Earth, Four Legends, I almost feel like we're colonizing ourselves. These words, this is how we're supposed to talk -- what it means to be Indian in white America. But it's not who we really are; it's not what it means to be Navajo or Spokane or Cour d'Alene (De Ramirez, "Fancy Dancer")

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Alexie, a Native American author who expresses a deep love for the classics of American poetry and American film has said that all Native American writers "do have a cultural responsibility above and beyond what other people do, more than other ethnic group, simply because we are so misrepresented and misunderstood and appropriated. We have a serious responsibility to tell the truth" and to act as "cultural ambassadors" (Caldwell, "Interview"). But that cultural ambassadorship means telling the actual truth, not merely recapitulating old truths or cliched ideas of the exotic Native American in white culture.

TOPIC: Research Paper on Sherman Alexie's Poetry Assignment

With this in mind, Alexie's works are profoundly personal but he always links them to a larger cultural understanding. His meshing of classical form, personal life, and Indian culture can be seen in his poem "Sister Fire; Brother Smoke" about his sister who died in a fire. The poem takes the form of a classic villanelle like Dylan Thomas' "Do not go gentle into that good night" and makes effective use of the form's constrained repetition: "When I see my sister in every fire,/is it me who sets her in those pyres/and burns her repeatedly?" he asks. The poem reflects how Alexie is haunted by his sister's death yet also demonstrates self-conscious awareness of his role as a writer, which is to lie: "Have I become an accomplished liar," is the other refrain that is repeated throughout the villanelle structure.

As a Native American author, Alexie clearly feels a responsibility to his people and his family, even while he claims an author's privilege to tell stories and to lie in an inventive fashion. His sister's death by fire is heart-breakingly real and, of course, the notion of fire conjures up images of a smoke signal, in terms of traditional Indian images. Alexie demonstrates his right to use the villanelle form for his personal grief and also to recontextualize it in terms of a specifically Indian experience.

In his poem "At a Navajo Monument Valley Tribal School" Alexie more explicitly addresses the complex history of Native Americans in America and his relationship with that tradition. In the 19th century, Indian boarding schools were schools specifically set up by the American federal government to 'save' Indian children from their native ways. Children were forcibly taken away from their parents and required to 'act like whites.' Today, tribal schools attempt to reverse the process by integrating native culture into the high school curriculum. However, the legacy of colonialism cannot entirely be cast away and Indian children still have dreams of becoming conventional sports stars, given that they have been reared on American popular culture.… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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"Sherman Alexie's Poetry."  Essaytown.com.  November 16, 2014.  Accessed October 17, 2021.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/sherman-alexie-poetry/7520540.