EOU celebrates National Poetry Month with Navajo writer

Sherwin

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 3.39.08 PMLA GRANDE — Eastern Oregon University will celebrate National Poetry Month with a reading by Navajo poet and author Sherwin Bitsui.

Bitsui is the author of “Flood Song” (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) and “Shapeshift” (University of Arizona Press, 2003).

Bitsui’s “Flood Song” is a book-length sequence of lyric poems that evoke Native American traditions in a postmodern idiom of fragmentation and churn of shifting imagery. Following its release in 2013, Bitsui was interviewed by Guernica, a nonprofit magazine dedicated to global art and politics.

The author commented about the mixture of Native and non-Native imageries in his work.

Screen Shot 2017-04-19 at 4.03.57 PM“In my experience, my work has always been about collisions,” Bitsui is quoted in the article. “I come from a traditional family and I was taught to view the world metaphorically from a young age. Our physical world had to be attended to ceremoniously and often such ritual devices involved the act of ‘speaking’ a world into a balance.”

Bitsui said words have the power to transform or create any situation.

“It may seem superstitious to outsiders, but such respect and affection for language gave me an entrance into poetic understanding of the world and its consequences,” he said.

Bitsui said his culture’s literary output sees published poets more commonly than published prose writers.

“We seem to gravitate toward this form of translation and sharing of experience,” he said of poetry.

“Flood Song” garnered praise from fellow poet and novelist Sherman Alexie.

“Sherwin Bitsui sees violent beauty in the American landscape,” Alexie writes. “There are junipers, black ants, axes and cities dragging their bridges. I can hear Whitman’s drums in these poems and I can see Ginsberg’s supermarkets. But above all else, there is an indigenous eccentricity, ‘a cornfield at the bottom of a sandstone canyon,’ that you will not find anywhere else.”

Bitsui is a Diné from the Navajo Reservation in White Cone, Arizona. His accolades include the Whiting Writers’ Award, a grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship and Lannan Literary Fellowship. He holds an associate of fine arts degree from the Institute of American Indian Arts Creative Writing Program.

Bitsui’s reading is part of the Carl and Sandra Ellston Ars Poetica Literary Lectures Series at EOU, which sponsors readings throughout the year by a diverse slate of writers from around the United States.

Copies of the writer’s collections will be available to purchase at the reading, which is free and open to the public. The reading begins at 7:30 p.m. April 24 in Pierce Library.

Limited parking is available in the east Badgley Hall parking lot adjacent to the library.

For more information contact Ars Poetica Director David Axelrod at 541-962-3633 or daxelrod@eou.edu.

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