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Thursday, September 30, 2010

N. Scott Momaday - House Made of Dawn

For the first entry back from our break from this project, Drew and I both read House Made of Dawn by N. Scott Momaday. Drew will be updating his blog with that entry soon, so I guess I beat him to the punch. Finishing this book was a task for me, I can't speak for Drew, but Momaday's writing style does not mix with me whatsoever. Other than that, and as it is a question of style and not talent, it is merely a preference of mine and for that I will address it as a believable work of art that holds some literary merit.

Momaday follows the story of Abel who we can pick as the quintessential Native-American of this time period. Abel represents to us all that means to be Indian as the characters will continue to refer to themselves. Abel is out-of-control, and all of his subconscious problems seem to seethe under the service of the narrative. We never directly address anything for Abel, everything remains off the page and conjecture. I don't know where we would learn as simply about what happens to Abel and what leaves him wounded and on Henry's doorstep again. Again their is conjecture as to why, and possibly what it means for the story could be drawn as to the plight of the Indians going unnoticed by the white man, but more on this later. But I wanted to just address the objects to look at in the text, because there is so much that I feel I missed. I took my time with this 190 page novel. It made you take your time to read the story, and perhaps Momaday was intentional in this regard to slow the reader and live deeply in this narrative. But the story didn't invite you in, you lived on the outskirts of it, and it didn't bring you down and let into the inner workings of these characters. We don't know anything more than when we started about Abel, we saw him move, we saw him run in the final scene, and I think we saw him kill a bear and kill a man. But this is my problem, I don't know Abel and we didn't spend a lot of time together. There were so many moving parts to this story that eventually didn't mean anything. The early section about the festival, and the early priest. The section about the white woman coming back was an interesting twist but ultimately it didn't match up with anything else. I was constantly confused through out this book as to who was talking and why this person was important. Momaday sets off different voices in italics throughout the novel, but we aren't sure who was speaking when it was plain text, and are ever more confused when it switches to italics and the person is talking about something totally different. Ok, I got that all out.

I wanted to address some of the reason why I enjoyed reading this book, but I had to flush all of that anx out of my system. It wasn't an enjoyable read necessarily, I will probably enjoy letting the words of Alice Adams pass over my eyes more than this book. But House Made of Dawn was for me a book as once I put it down, I sat, as I sit now writing, thinking over its nooks and crannies I revel in its mastery of form for function for meaning. If what I perceive is true of this text, the undertones are what feed the tension of the narrative. There is constantly a fight about to break out in these pages, and there is a sense of urgency to the words, I wish it was just a little easier to read for the sake of communicating the conflicts, but I understand perhaps what he was doing. The Native American story is one I am not familiar with, and this novel allowed me into a private conversation happening and has happened all over this country for hundreds of years and has informed an entire way of life. I don't think that Momaday has filled us in on the whole of the conversation but gave us a piece. The thing that I love about this project is that before I pick up a book I do know research, I do no contextualization for the work. I let the work speak for itself, the words on the page speak for themselves. Then after it is finished and I write a blog based on the words on the page and let them wash over me, I respond with all honesty to what I read. Now this honesty could be made account of if I feel propelled to read further, but the beauty of the novel is that the words can and should speak for themselves, if you need help to decipher something on the page you have an incomplete work of art. So I let it stand up to my critical eye, and this book passed. But now as I want to inform myself of this issue and the art and the conflict and the beauty of the stories. I will seek it out and watch in run on in front of me before I could ever catch up. The story of the Native-American people in America is one that I think is touch with all of the complexities of modern life, and might not at this point be unentanglable for our stories perhaps. But it will propel me on.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Pulitzer Project Update

It has been too long in between posts on this subject, and for whoever out there that reads this, I apologize for delaying. I recently moved and that hindered my focus in many arenas of life, in the scrabble to find work and find grounding in your new surroundings, things get left out, and you forget what it was you were doing before you sort of recreated yourself and your way of life in a new place. So I have been constantly thinking of this project, but not until now do I have any sort of impetus to continue on. During the duration, through many different sorts of circumstances, I have gotten the list needed down to a final four. And in a shocking turn of events, Ernest Poole was not the last book that would have been found. I have found it finally, and I had to go to the Northern most part of the country to find it. I went for a week stay in Seattle, WA with my Aunt Alicia and her family, and we went to a beach further north from her house on Bainbridge Island, and there my wife Sam and I wondered around this quaint little town and we fell into some used books stores on the little strip there. During this interim time, I have entertained the idea of renewing my pledge to this project, so maintaining connection with used bookstores has been how this project has made it through basically on life support. So, possibly on my most disillusiioned point in this project, I walk slowly through a fairly well organized little shop, and lo! and behold! Ernest Poole perfectly organized into the shelf. I didn't have to search beneath stacks and stacks of unmanaged books, digging through dirt and dust, blow off the front dust-jacket and there it would be. This was sitting on the shelf right where it was supposed to be. And to the level that I have built this journey in my mind, I started hyperventilating. I guarded the book against my chest, keeping it safe from all of the other 'treasure-hunters' stalking me through the store waiting for an opportunity to wrench this precious book from my grasp. It cost $6.00 and I paid in cash. The young woman behind the counter stared at me with all of the loathing she could muster for the strangest customer she would have all week. I promised to send her a Christmas card, and burst onto the street where I couldn't reach anyone with the good news that should accompany such an event. I had conquered my project's white whale, and I walked up the street ringing and reringing people who would care about such a happening, but no one answered. So the story ends like a blip in a peculiar uneventful way, and I decided then, possibly that I would not complete the task at hand. But now I feel more fervent about this notion than ever. I hope soon, with the help of my brother-in-arms, Drew Moody @dgmoody, to start researching more about the Prize itself and the choosing, possibly making contact with people who are concerned with such things. Drew and I, I think, have shyed away from making such an explicit move in this project, trying not to bring too much attention to the case, because we weren't sure if it was really going to lead to anything. So, here we are. I am just about to finish N. Scott Momaday's House Made of Dawn, and from their Drew and I are moving onto Alice Adams, and then who knows, but we have gotten the buying part mostly out of the way, with a few exceptions that may take some drastic measures on our parts. And then we will see where we go from there. Wish us luck, we will need it.


Friday, September 3, 2010


I don't write much poetry, but I wrote this one on a vacation visiting me Aunt Alicia in Seattle. She lives on Bainbridge Island and generously allowed us to live in their rental house for a week and borrow their car. We watched some old family movies of my father's family from 1961 to 1970, the year before my grandmother died. I wrote this poem for her.

I've seen her in my sleep;
I've walked with her in my dreams, but I didn't know her face.

Seeing her in the face of her daughter-
I struggle to place the eyes.

I knew her when I was young,
and the winds of the memory rush me like a heavy current -
- beckoning me backwards.

I want to keep my head above the water of my thoughts.

Their images crawl across the screen of my mind.
Their home movies linger like the taste of something
sweeter than you expected.
The teal cars, rounded head lamps and glasses,
straight cut skirts and Easter jackets -
- the vacuum of Army housing.
The emptiness sits with me now.

The people of the Island are going back to work.
This morning I got my first call to Substitute Teach,
and I am pulled back to the main land,
I have things to do, and this trip is over before
it began.

She sways in the sun at Yellowstone,
grabs her elbows behind her back at Disney,
chases her boys in gardens,
swims in her red suit and lips.

I watch the story of the family I never knew
unfold 8mm's at a time, like the minutes of
a meeting I didn't attend but shaped my life.

I looked from the outside and tried
to peek over the hedges and what I saw
I was allowed to see. A family, young,
before the jolt that would sink these people.

The video only records happy incidents of
this family with cake and car rides
swirling past us in a silent fast-forward.

The film stops.
My grandmother dies when my father was young.
Just before this a little girl who came late
in the recording dies, and leaves the stage
before her story begun foreshadowing
a great end for this family.

We have to put on our business suits and move.
Go to our own meetings,
Smoke our cigarettes before we get on the boat,
now we can think of the things left untouched -
- until we are ready.

A single thought can sink a man -
A memory run him aground -

There is no sound, but i can hear her humming,
singing softly to me.
I imagine she sung, probably when she was alone,
just barely above a breath.

No sound comes now, of the party-makers,
the car-horns, or the wind rushing past their
open windows in the early 60's sedan
on their way to Vermont or Victoria.
They careen across our expansive land.
They are from Alabama.
I am from Illinois where my mother
took me after their ship had sailed.

My father comes to Illinois once when he was young,
the scene doesn't last long.
We might have been to the same place at the same age.
But I went there without him,
maybe I should have looked for his ghost.