In her poem, "Grandfather at the Indian Health Clinic," Elizabeth Cook-Lynn writes of an old man dignified by age and "averse to / an unceremonious world." Cook-Lynn's words might serve as epigraph to "Harper's Anthology of 20th Century Native American Poetry." For the 37 poets collected here, poetry seems often a tool for investing the world with vital ceremony, and poetry-as-ceremony becomes in these poems a way of survival.
Consistently excluded from anthologies, Indian poets have long been accustomed to seeing "Indian poetry" represented by Anglo re-workings of Indian texts. In 1975, Klallam poet Duane Niatum made a large stride toward rectifying this situation when he edited "Carriers of the Dream Wheel" for Harper & Row, a gathering of 16 young Indian poets that introduced readers to a rich new vein in American poetry. Now, more than a decade later, Niatum has brought together a much broader selection of Indian poets ranging from the internationally known such as N. Scott Momaday, Leslie Silko, and Simon Ortiz to such relative new-comers as Earle Thompson and Anita Endrezze.
To readers familiar with Indian writing, even a partial list of the authors included here will almost complete the roster of Indian poets: Niatum, Momaday, Silko, Ortiz, James Welch, Linda Hogan, Joy Harjo, Wendy Rose, Paula Gunn Allen, Gerald Vizenor, Lance Henson, Barney Bush, William Oandasan, Maurice Kenny, Carter Revard, Peter Blue Cloud, Louise Erdrich, Louis (Little Coon) Oliver, and Ray Young Bear. To this list Niatum has added nearly 20 younger and lesser-known poets with the only inexplicable and glaring omission being that of Navajo poet Luci Tapahonso.