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HOW TO BE AN INDIAN IN THE 21st CENTURY
Louis V. Clark III (Madison, Wisconsin Historical Society Press, 2017)
Review by Dr. Dawn Karima
“I’m an Indian, yes I am, I’m an Indian Man.,” writes the
author of a powerful poetry volume, “I’m an Indian, yes
I am, I, I, I, think.” In lines that mirror today’s news
headlines, Oneida author Louis V. Clark III shares his
views on race, religion and recognizing his role as an
Elder. His poetry fills the pages of HOW TO BE AN INDIAN
IN THE 21st CENTURY, a recently released volume of
musings, poems and recollections.
“Speak the truth. It will amaze some, upset others, confound the idiots, and ease your mind,” Clark states in a great summary of this book’s themes. Clark challenges conventional thinking about Native identity, the role of culture and the impact of colonization and modernity. His first-person perspective poignantly preserves his personal experiences with schools, gender identity, jobs, racial prejudice and family life.
Most prominently, Clark focuses on the construction of his own life at the crossroads of tribal heritage. “So let us show our youth the Turtle Island is forever home,” his poem ‘Robert’s Rules” decrees, “And Oneidas speak the truth.” Truth is the transcending theme of these poems and the transformational thread between them all.
Poetry provides the ideal method for melding memories and modern life. Clark’s rhythmic syllables seem like spoken word as they leap of the page into the reader’s consciousness. Thought-provoking and tender, Clark’s raw and unfiltered truths turn him into a trustworthy griot, marking time and making talent part of the literary and historical record. “Noble blood coursing through my veins a game I couldn’t win,” he writes, “Columbus came to save my soul no thoughts of what might have been. My ancestors, pagan trash, in heaven they couldn’t get in.”
A skillful storyteller and significant poet, Clark is a poet worth reading.