Report to the Department of the Interior (Review Series #3)
Another miniature review for ImageUpdate: a powerful collection of poems from Diane Glancy.
The Lamentations of “Indian Education”
Report to the Department of the Interior by Diane Glancy
Diane Glancy’s new book of poetry Report to the Department of the Interior reads less like a collection and more like a path walked through the harsh landscape-story of “Indian education,” a governmental and missionary project to assimilate Native American children at boarding schools in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Here, native people speak lamentations from beyond the grave—“A forest of closed doors / behind which there is a breaking into people / with a world not theirs” (“To Say from Their Way”). “Once our stories were round,” another speaker says, “but the wolves made them square as houses.” The story Glancy offers is round, too, with many voices. When the white priest and school administrator Father Philip Bernard speaks, we see both his suffering and his blindness; a spirit appears in his room, and he shouts it down—“I would think it was an angel / but it wears a buffalo head with horns for a hat”—as if angels cannot come in this guise. There is one Maker in this book, a Maker who “likes differences”; but the missionaries here are too busy with a seductive reenactment of the Promised Land story to stop and listen to The Maker’s voice, or the people’s. The evils here are grave, but in the large soul of this book, their root is found in the heart of all humanity. “We have something inside us that is not from The Maker—something / that causes trouble,” says “The Origin of Law,” the book’s closing poem, a mythological re-telling of the history of “the early people” in the form of an elementary school play. “Once, a Buffalo came to the early people and transformed into a Human / Being, and gave the early people ceremonies to follow… / The ceremonies showed the early people how to respect themselves and / The Maker.” This closing poem is tonally different—still vast and deep and sad, but also whimsical and funny, and, in the end, terrifyingly hopeful. The Buffalo, though slaughtered from trains all across the prairie, are not dead: “I rise, I rise. / I, whose tread makes the earth to rumble.”
—Reviewed by Jen Hinst-White
Purchase your copy here.