Dean Rader publishes widely in the fields of poetry, American Indian studies, and visual/popular culture. His debut collection of poems, Works & Days, won the 2010 T. S. Eliot Poetry Prize. His recent collection, Landscape Portrait Figure Form, (Omnidawn Chapbook Series 2014) was named by the Barnes & Noble Review as one of the Best Books of Poetry of the year. In 2016, he won the Common Good Books Prize (judged by Garrison Keillor) and in 2015 was the recipient of the Poetry Society of America’s George Bogin Memorial Award (judged by Stephen Burt). He has also written scholarly books, including Engaged Resistance: Contemporary American Indian Art, Literature, and Film from Alcatraz to the NMAI (University of Texas Press, 2011), which won the Beatrice Medicine Award for Excellence in American Indian Scholarship and Speak to Me Words: Essays on Contemporary American Indian Poetry(University of Arizona Press, 2001, edited with Janice Gould). He is a professor at the University of San Francisco. For more information, visit his website.
An Indigenous daughter of the West, CMarie Fuhrman was born in Southwest Colorado and has lived in various rural towns of states all along the Rocky Mountains. She has earned degrees in Exercise Physiology, English and American Indian Studies and is currently an MFA candidate at the University of Idaho where she co-teaches Native Literature and Ethnic Studies classes and is associate poetry editor for Fugue. Cindy’s poetry has been featured in Broadsided Press’s NoDapl compilation, two anthologies, and several literary journals including Cutthroat: A Journal of the Arts, and Taos Journal of International Poetry and Art. She is recipient of the Burns Award for poetry and multiple fellowships. Her current project, The Problem of My Body, focuses on the forced sterilization of Native women. CMarie divides her time between Moscow and McCall, Idaho.
In anticipation of Tupelo Press's forthcoming Native Voices anthology, I'm pleased to introduce a conversation with our co-editors about what the book makes possible in the classroom.
KMD: You are all both accomplished educators, with positions at such colleges as the University of San Francisco, University of Idaho, and many others. I’d love to hear more about your experiences teaching poetry. What’s missing from contemporary writing programs and the conversations that take place within them?
DR: I think there are two answers to your question. One answer involves what gets taught to undergraduates in terms of Indigenous poetry. This includes classes to both English majors and--in some ways more importantly--to non-English majors. For example, at USF we have a very popular class called “Native American Literature and Film” which fulfills the university’s literature core requirement. It is designed for non-English majors and will be, for most students in the class, the only literature class they take in college. Increasingly, there are courses like this all over the country. And they are popular. Professors who teach these classes are often overworked and perhaps even under-prepared--especially for poetry. This anthology will help them teach contemporary Indigenous poetry in an inclusive way that highlights not just the thematics of poetic creation but its forms as well.
I also think more and more students are pursuing graduate studies in Native literatures. We definitely need more students--ideally more Indigenous students--getting PhDs in literature, English, AIS, and American studies. What has been missing for these students is a current anthology of Indigenous poetics that arms them to to graduate level work in Native poetries.
The second issue is about poets themselves and what gets taught in graduate creative writing programs. I think recent books by Natalie Diaz and Layli Long Soldier might get taught in MFA programs, but there is a vast canon of Indigenous American poetry that does not get taught in graduate programs because graduate writing courses tend to focus on craft, and for years readers have been taught to read books by Native writers through the lens of theme or context or culture. This anthology helps correct that.
CF: I agree with everything that Dean said. As a teacher of Native Lit and advisor for our Universities IKEEP (Indigenous Knowledge for Effective Education Program) I am responsible for teaching Natives and non-Natives about Indigenous literature. I often teach classes for Native students only, but I have taught mixed classes as well. What I have found in teaching both is that Natives would have to learn about Indigenous writing from a non-Native perspective and non-Natives were never given the chance to hear about craft or the impetus for a poem or story from the Native writer. Often I would invite, via Skype or classroom visit, the writers and poets to talk to the students themselves, but this is not always feasible. It is my hope that a collection like this one might be able to bring those voices into the classroom directly. This way, both student and teacher may gain a better perspective and understanding of Native writing.
KMD: In what ways is pedagogy politically charged? Can our decisions as teachers create a more inclusive and just artistic community?
DR: A great part of teaching is related to 1) knowledge and 2) comfort. Most poets and professors who teach did not, themselves, read poetry by Native writers in college or graduate school. So, they are less likely to teach it now. I think many professors shy away from teaching, say, Wendy Rose poems or Simon Ortiz poems or LeAnne Howe poems because they don’t know much about tribal histories or even larger Native histories. Furthermore, Native issues are not forefront in American culture right now the way African American and Chicano/a issues are. So, the political urgency of Black Lives Matter or the immigration debate may, for some, feel exigent. I would argue though American minority issues, the marginalization of people of color, and the absence of Natives from popular and political culture, and the larger issues of class make teaching works by Native writers paramount at this moment in history.
KMD: What new directions do you hope that this anthology opens up within our thinking about poetry, literary tradition, and aesthetics more generally?
DR: I hope this anthology encourages writers and professors to think about Indigeous poetry in terms of craft. I really hope our book shifts the lens a little bit so that people do not turn to Native poetry just to “learn about Indians” (as I heard someone say not long ago) but to learn about art. What if readers start thinking about Native poetry the way they think about Native painting and pottery--as modes of aesthetic production, as vibrant acts of creation.
CF: I can’t say this any better.
KMD: Tell us about one particular contribution from the anthology that you would be excited to teach. How would you utilize this particular work in the classroom?
CF: I am excited to teach work by Nimiipuu poet Michael Wasson. First, because he is from the Nez Perce tribe which is located here in Idaho, not far from the University. Many of our students are Nez Perce and I think they would be honored and inspired to hear from one of their own. Not to mention, Michael’s work is outstanding. His poems are complex, multi-layered, and extremely poignant. I am excited to bring poets into the classroom that reflect my students.
KMD: Given the anthology’s unique structure, what does this book make possible within the context of writing programs? For writing communities more generally?
DR: The book’s combination of poetry and craft are going to be unique. I also like the idea that our book foregrounds influential poetic texts. This highlights the ways in which poetry is a kind of collaboration, or at the very least a conversation. It also helps illustrate direct influences and echoes.
CF: Generations and a sense of community are very important to Native people. This book is way of honoring our teacher, our elders, and inspiring our children to write their truths as well.
Because this book is comprised of writing from poets all over the US (including Alaska and Hawaii) it gives a more complete picture of the Native American experience, particularly the contemporary experience while honoring the past. Though this book is not meant to be a historical work, it does help to fill the gaps in both the current events and the overlooked history of Native people in the U.S.
For more information about our anthology, our mission, and how you can bring this book to life, please visit our Kickstarter page.