Native American Poetry

The literary art of poetry is something that many cultures have implemented into their own personal histories.  In this respect, Native Americans are certainly not any different.  Native American poetry is an art form that has a solid basis in both Native American history and Native American cultural identity.

Within the culture itself, Native American poetry is actually more often referred to as being “songs.”  This is because traditionally, Native American poetry was sung and not written, being passed down throughout many generations in this manner until the poetic content was eventually written down.

Historically, Native Americans created poetry for many different reasons.  The most prevalent reasons included: hunting rituals, healing ceremonies, planting rituals, and initiation rites.  Poetry was also sung (most often with a drum accompaniment) to tell of religious beliefs, tribal history, or to relay rules that member of the tribe were supposed to abide by.  Most importantly, through this use of oral poetry, Native Americans believed that the words they sang or spoke connected them with the mysterious forces of nature, thus developing their own spiritual identities.

Ray A. Young Bear

The tradition of oral poetry has indeed lived on in the Native American culture, evolving into an art form that resembles traditional poetry.  A contemporary well-known poet in the Native American community is Ray A. Young Bear of the Meskwaki tribe.  His poetry is unique in that it is of not one particular voice, but rather of many exterior and interior ones.  While many poets write of themselves within the subject matter of their poems, he does not.  His poems are interesting examples of Native American contemporary culture in general, with such titles as “A Season of Provocations and Other Ethnic Dreams.” 

Poetry is meant to be a reflection of many different things, be they personal or cultural in topic.  Native American poetry is unique in that to read it is to read bits of history in both a literal and spiritual sense.  No doubt enthusiasts of both literature and poetry would find poetry from the Native American culture to be inspiring.

Joseph Paige 2006

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