A great time was had by all at the pre-launch of issue 7 of Skylight47 at the public library in Clifden on Thursday 15 September as part of the Arts week. The magazine is the result of some very hard work from the Clifden Writers Group and the accomplished poet Robyn Rowland was at hand to officiate. A number of the contributors attended and read out their pieces. I was very taken with Anne Irwin’s ‘Omey Island Races 2015’ with its vivid description of the event; and ‘Elegy to Some Mysterious Form’ by Ria Collins was quite a moving and unsettling poem on a very personal and traumatic decision that had to be made. Indeed all the contributors must be congratulated on a very fine selection of poems. There are prose articles too in the magazine on topics ranging from poem-writing itself (Kim Moore’s ‘Poetry Masterclass’) to reviews of recent books published.
The venue of Clifden Public Library contributed enormously to the cordial atmosphere of the proceedings, especially the three skylights overhead which, Tony Curtis assured us, were put in specially for the occasion and at great expense! Congratulations to all the Skylight Team on such a fine magazine and compliments to the library staff on the wonderful venue.
As mentioned, Australian poet Robyn Rowland did the honours and I was pleased to meet up with her again. I remember well her reading from her collection ‘This Intimate War’ recently in Dublin at The Sunflower Sessions in Jack Nealon’s (Capel Street, every last Wednesday, 07.30pm. Come along!). It is a most impressive book dealing with the terrible Gallipoli engagement in WWI and is a hard read since it eschews any self-serving attempts at ‘glorification’, and conveys much senselessness and absurdity of war. Robyn gets down into the dirt and blood with the soldiers and the sense of verisimilitude is stunning. Extra-fine poetry, then. And what a great writer she is and what a great thing to meet her … twice within a very few months!
My poem, Day of Judgement, was the last to be read out, and just as well too since it is a poem about ‘last things’. Not the kind of poem one would like to hear at a Christmas party (or any party!) but poems like this do have their place in the Great Order of Things to Come (but not to come too soon we hope!)
Day of Judgement
They who come to clear this room
will show a ruthlessness unknown
to me. The histories of my books
and how they came to claim a space
along these shelves will be unknown
to them. The brush and vacuum cleaner
will probe every corner, frames
will leave rectangles on the walls
and files of half-formed poems will bulk
black plastic sacks. This desk and chair
and radio/cd/clock will find
our long companionship concluded.
Half an hour will be enough
to sweep away a life, to feed
the hungry skip, allow the skirting
run around the room again
unhidden; there will be no mercy
for old pencil stubs, news clippings
yellowing in trays. Each spring
I tried, but never could be heartless,
emulate that day of judgement
when my loves must face the flames
or crowd the local charity shop,
forlorn— hoping for salvation.
Single issues of Skylight 47 are available at €5.00 plus postage, from skylight47.wordpress.com or come to the launch in Galway City Library at 6.00pm on Thursday, September 29 and pick up a copy.
Submissions for Skylight 47 issue 8 (Spring 2017) will be accepted between 1 Nov 2016 and 1 Jan 2017. See skylight47poets.wordpress.com for details.
Before Baghdad was bombed that fateful evening in 2003 I saw a TV report in which Baghdadis were demonstrating against the imminent war. Prominent among the placards was one which depicted the US Secretary of Defence with horns added to his head over the slogan ‘Devil Rumsfeld’. We are always cautioned against demonizing the enemy but maybe we can say in this case the Baghdadis were right.
I’m still not clear which of the Imperial Triumvirate at the top of the American Empire (Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld) was most responsible for the Iraq tragedy but Andrew Cockburn’s very detailed book makes a good case for Donald. His book is rampacked with so much information about Rumsfeld’s dogged pursuit of position and power – including a stab at running for President – that this reader was somewhat overwhelmed. It is a book in the tradition of every minute detail being laid out … in detail, and is therefore something of a tough read. After all, when one has been led through half a dozen highly questionable wheelings and dealings one tends to fast forward through the next dozen or so. In defence of this ‘fault’ I have to admit that I did not need much convincing that Rumsfeld was – as the subtitle has it – a ‘disaster’ for America. My prejudice against the man is quite strong.
Apart from this suffocating welter of information the book is a very good read and exposes, once again, how a nation was misled into one of the most dreadfully mistaken foreign policy ventures in all history, and for which we in the ‘West’ are now reaping the whirlwind and will continue to reap for the foreseeable future. If, unlike me, you need to be more persuaded about Donald’s miscalculations and pig-ignorance about Iraq and Iraqis, you should read this book.
[By the way, Donald’s observation that ‘there are known unknowns. That is to say there are things we know we don’t know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don’t know we don’t know’ is a surprisingly profound insight and has, before reading this book, acted as something of a brake on my outright prejudices against the man. Not any more. Cockburn asserts that ‘old Pentagon hands recall it circulating in the Office of Defence Research and Engineering in a xeroxed compilation of similar maxims as long ago as the 1960s’.]
The problem with reading the history of American Native Peoples and their virtual annihilation by my European ancestors is that one can become very depressed at the horrors they endured for centuries. From the initial deprivations under the early settlers, on through the ‘opening of the West’, and well into the last century their story is a heart-breaking one of mass extermination amounting to genocide. And so, to read a book that has a happier tale to tell about Native Americans is something wonderful. Charles Wilkinson describes a resurgent Native American movement intent on reclaiming its rights and on bringing an end brutal and degrading treatment (the book is subtitled ‘The Rise of Modern Indian Nations’). It is not at all an unqualified success story. There is still a long way to go and of course entitlement to the full extent of the lands which were stolen from them (i.e., all of North America!) can never be adequately addressed, but this book gives an account of the many successes Native American tribes have had since the middle of the last century in reclaiming at least some of their heritage, both in terms their traditions and of their lands, and this has had the effect of restoring confidence in themselves and in their efforts to assert their rights.
The question of when began this rowing back of age-old mistreatment is a bit clouded, but Wilkinson locates it somewhere around the mid 1950s. The burgeoning civil rights movement was a big influence, although it seems that there was a somewhat uneasy relationship between the black people and native Americans despite the ill-treatment they suffered in common. Black/coloured people had been forcibly removed from their homelands and shipped to America, where as the Native Americans were forcibly deprived of their (sovereign) homelands in America by the various means of fraudulent treaties and genocidal massacres.
The resurgence of the Native American movement to assert this sovereignty was greatly helped by the returning Native American war veterans who had put their lives on the line for their country and expected better treatment at home than had been afforded their parents. Many of these men and women used their education grants to study law and then to use their skills to further the cause of their people, many of whom were still living in the reservations they had been forced into long ago and in which they were also still enduring appalling conditions.
Other books I have read have gone into considerable detail about these conditions and the assaults on the dignity of these ancient and civilized peoples and, quite rightly, the tone has often been one of sincere regret and severe condemnation. Wilkinson eschews a ‘horrified’ tone and allows the facts to speak for themselves. In so doing, he lays bear in a matter-of-fact way the unspeakable injustices of expropriation wreaked on these aboriginal peoples in the fevered days of the white man’s land-grabbing in the ‘New World’. The book is not just another denunciation of the white man (indeed there is mention of white men and women who have fought the Indians’ cause along the way). It is a reasoned and factual account of what was lost and the relatively recent efforts to turn the tide and make better the life of today’s tribes. The successes are enumerated along with the future difficulties. Furthermore, most of the accounts and narratives are given by Native Americans themselves, with Wilkinson adopting a facilitator’s role.
Recent events that mark this change in attitudes towards the Indian Peoples can be seen in the return of many lands important to the tribes culturally, for example the return of Blue Lake and its surrounding forestry to the people of the Taos Pueblo by President Nixon in 1970. There had been a long road to travel through red tape and bureaucracy before this happened, but it did happen in the end. Like in other instances, the persistence and resilience and courage of native Americans, coupled with dedicated legal know-how, finally won the day. The American Indian always had plenty of courage, but legal know-how is a more recent acquisition and has made all the difference.
This book also has the advantage of being one more deadly blow against the self-serving notion which has it that Europeans found their ‘New World’ virtually devoid of people and with vacant land there for the taking. I find this still a commonly held view here in Ireland. In fact, as this book shows conclusively, the array of nations and cultures present when the white man arrived was widespread over the entire continent. Wilkinson also provides maps of Indian reservations which show their present lands and what has been gained since the more recent affirmative actions of the tribes. The comparisons of their present holdings with what was the extent of their original territories says it all, as is evident in the Taos Pueblo map (above) of the 1970s returned lands.
The best thing about this book, apart from its being a scholarly but eminently readable achievement, is that – like I said at the start of this piece – its message is positive. There’s a lot to be done yet, but the position of the American Native Peoples is improving, even though the progress is slow and the road ahead anything but easy. And because 10 years have elapsed since its publication I am driven search out news of developments since then.
About the author:
Distinguished Professor at the University of Colorado, Charles Wilkinson is the author of twelve books, including American Indians, Time and Law and Crossing the New Meridian. A former attorney with the Native American Rights Fund, he has travelled to more than one hundred Indian reservations. Peterson Zah, former president of the Navajo Nation said of him: “Of all the students of American Indian law, Charles Wilkinson is the best. He is down to Earth, loves the people, and appreciates the beauty of the land.” Wilkinson currently resides in Boulder, Colorado. (2005)