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Honorary Curator Gerald Vizenor Reading

Gerald Vizenor
Honorary Curator, 2021-2022

Haiku Reading Video

John Stevenson photoTo celebrate this appointment the American Haiku Archives featured a special Zoom reading on Sunday, September 26, 2021, at 11:00 a.m. Pacific time (2:00 p.m. Eastern time).

Here is a link to the video of the 2021 Honorary Curator Reading:

Gerald Vizenor - September 26, 2021
(Passcode: 80wk?i?w)

You may download a PDF of this introduction.

Gerald Vizenor and Haiku Traces

The following remarks were prepared for a Zoom reading on September 26, 2021 to celebrate Gerald Vizenor as the 2021-2022 Honorary Curator of the American Haiku Archives.

by Kimberly Blaeser

I have had the privilege of introducing Jerry all over the world, from Minnesota to Vienna, but I have never done so virtually nor in a setting that honors one of the most elusive and yet most influential aspects of his writing: haiku. I am delighted to be here among you today to honor supreme haikuist Gerald Vizenor, whose work in this genre finds itself enmeshed with both Anishinaabe and Japanese masters.

Vizenor is the author of more than forty books and there is hardly a genre in which he has not written: journalism, fiction, drama and screenwriting, memoir, creative nonfiction, scholarship, and of course, poetry including haiku. He has also been the editor and founder of several native literature series.

Scholars and reviewers have characterized Gerald's work in many ways over the years. One of my favorite descriptions comes from Choctaw writer and scholar Louis Owens who describes Vizenor as "a trickster, contrary, muckraking political journalist and activist, poet, essayist, novelist, and teacher." Pulitzer Prize winning Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday calls him "the supreme ironist." A review in the Utne Reader spoke of "Vizenor's literary canon" as one "of surprise and delight." Indeed, it is the continual surprise of his work, the new turns it has taken through the decades that continues to delight—intrigue, enlighten, inspire, and also "confuzzle" his many readers, including those of us who masquerade as Vizenor scholars.

Anishinaabe author Gerald Vizenor has devoted his career to upsetting the status quo, to deconstructing the term "Indian," to redefining the mixedblood, and to liberating the contemporary Native people he identifies as postindian. His most recent books include several historical novels, Treaty Shirts, Blue Ravens, Native Tributes, Satie on the Seine: Letters to the Heirs of the Fur Trade, Favor of Crows: New and Collected Haiku, the book-length long poem The War at Sugar Point, and together with Jill Doerfler The White Earth Reservation: Ratification of a Native Democratic Constitution. But these are just a sampling. Gerald is at once one of the most prolific and one of the most versatile of contemporary Native writers.

Widely recognized as a leading writer and scholar of Native literature, the innovative author who gave trickster narrative a contemporary turn, Vizenor has lectured and taught nationally and internationally and his work has been widely disseminated and translated in many languages including German, Italian, and French. Professor Emeritus of American Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, he is a citizen of the White Earth Nation of Anishinaabe in Minnesota and the recent principal writer of a new White Earth Constitution. Gerald has received various kinds of literary recognition including both an American Book Award and a Fiction Collective Award for Griever: An American Monkey King in China, the Western Literature Association Distinguished Achievement Award, and the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writer's Circle of the Americas. In deference to his stature as a scholar, he has held several academic honorific titles at universities around the country, including the David Burr Chair and the James J. Hill Visiting Professorship, but equally impressive is the recent founding of an academic journal Transmotion, which was inspired by his work, his language, and his innovative critical stance. Indeed, through his writing, teaching, and mentoring Vizenor has had an impact on a new generation of Native writers and scholars, recasting the very vocabulary with which we approach indigenous studies. His use of the phrase "survivance" has even inspired a video game. He is the visionary behind several Native literature series at major university presses including Oklahoma and Nebraska. Simply put, Vizenor's mark in the arena of Native studies is indelible.

In Postindian Conversations, Vizenor claims: "I am a storier, and my stories enfold the creation of a voice, a time, and a place that is always in motion, or visionary transmotion. And the stories create me." Note the reciprocity—creating story, and thus created by story—the transmotion of relationship. This afternoon we in this virtual space will be privileged to participate in the transmotion of this wonderful writer.

                                                                          ~ ~ ~

How does one write scholarship about suggestion or wisps of experience, about dreamscape or transformation (both of which are words Vizenor has used to describe haiku)? I have attempted such analysis in various academic essays and recommend Vizenor's own eloquent introduction to his haiku in Matsushima: Pine Island, but today I thought that in my introduction I would instead try to honor the form as well as the author and his poetics. So I offer instead flashes of recognition, lines of possibility, cusps of ideas about Vizenor and haiku. I hope they may give you a glimpse of the significance of his work in haiku and perhaps seed questions you may want to pursue in the discussion.

For Gerald Vizenor, haiku is an aesthetic, not a form. It hearkens after experience—a way of interacting with, perhaps disappearing into, the world.

Vizenor: "The printed words in haiku are rendered; nothing remains but dreams, oral traditions, the light around our hands, petals, the rain."

Vizenor's haiku embody multiple traditions, trace visual lines between the art of Japanese haiku and the song poems, dream songs of Anishinaabeg peoples. Following his discovery of Japanese haiku during his military service, Vizenor went on to "re-express" Anishinaabe song poems, finding similar intentions in the two poetics.

Vizenor: "There is a visual dreamscape in haiku which is similar to the sense of natural human connections to the earth found in tribal music, dream songs."

Arising partly from his experience of the oral tradition, Vizenor's haiku operate by trace and suggestion, leaving a space for the reader to enter the making of the poem, or the erasing of the poem until it becomes experience.

Vizenor: "The reader creates a dreamscape from haiku; nothing remains in print, words become dream voices, traces on the wind, twists in the snow, a perch high in the bare poplar."

Vizenor's work has always been in service of survivance—survival with resistance. This includes his haiku. Here and elsewhere, resistance often comes through humor, and the trickster aesthetic imbues Vizenor's haiku.

Vizenor: "There are four interior dancers at a haiku dreamscape . . . the street dancer in me is the trickster, the picaresque survivor in the wordwars, at common human intersections, at the supermarket, on a bus."

The imagism of Vizenor's haiku joins or becomes what might now be described as a geopoetics—his writing finds groundings in its relationships with place and seasonal cycles. The making of haiku arises from an act of attention—that listens, not only speaks.

Vizenor: "Anishinaabe woodland artists were aesthetic by natural reason—emotive romanticists, expressionists, and surrealists." And, "Haiku is a word cinema, a visual experience, earth toned."

The haiku of Vizenor is not static. Images suggest motion or transmotion. The haiku moves off the page and into our imagination. It leads finally away from words to presence, even to silence.

Vizenor: "The last dancer . . . practices alone, in silence, to remember the manners on the street, the gestures of the soul, and the words beneath the earth." And, "The real master of haiku is the imaginative reader who finds a dreamscape in natural harmonies beneath the words."

Among the origins and reaches of haiku experience Vizenor recognizes is the embedded reality of places that hold the stories and voices of ancestors, including our ancestor poets—for him including Basho, for me including Vizenor.

This is a haiku from Vizenor:

calm in the storm
master basho soaks his feet
water striders

And one from me written "after" that one:

feet on frozen ground
echo of master vizenor
crows in white pine

Please join me in welcoming supreme haikuist, Gerald Vizenor.

~ Kim Blaeser


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