Monday, April 6, 2015

National Poetry Month—Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a Native American Voice

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn.

Elizabeth Cook-Lynn, a member of the Crow Creek Sioux tribe, was born in 1930 in Fort Thompson, South Dakota, and raised on the reservation.  She came from a family with deep roots in the cultural and political leadership of her people.  He great-grandfather Gabriel Renville was a native linguist and help develop the first Dacotah language dictionaries.  Her father and grandfather each sat on the Tribal Council and her grandmother was a bilingual writer for an early Christian newspaper at Sisseton, South Dakota.
Cook-Lynn studied English and Journalism at South Dakota State College graduating in 1954.  After teaching high school to mostly Native American students in New Mexico and South Dakota he went on to study at New Mexico State University and at Black Hills State College then went on to get her Master’s Degree in Education from the University of South Dakota in Education, Psychology and Counseling in 1971. She was in a doctoral program at the University of Nebraska in 1977-78 and was a National Endowment for the Humanities fellow at Stanford University in 1976.
She went on to a distinguished academic career as Professor of English and Native American Studies at Eastern Washington University in Cheney from 1971 until her retirement, where she was. She was named Professor Emerita in 1990.
Cook-Lynn was one of four founding editors of Wicazo Sa Review (Red Pencil Review): A Journal of Native American Studies and is a member of the Council of Editors of Learned Journals, and of the Authors Guild.  During and since her academic career she published her own poetry and other literary work leading her to serve as a writer-in-residence at several institutions. 
Her body of work includes the semi-autobiographical Aurelia: A Crow Creek Trilogy and From the River’s Edge about the destruction of her People’s home by the flooding from the Missouri River Power Project.  She has also been an influential critic and essayist whose work includes Anti-Indianism in Modern America: A Voice from Tatekeya’s Earth and Why I Can’t Read Wallace Stegner and Other Essays: A Tribal Voice. Her poetry collections include I Remember the Fallen Trees, and Then the Badgers Said This.
For more than 40 years Cook-Lynn has been an indispensable voice for Native Americans, tribal culture, feminism, and ecology.

The Crow Creek Sioux Reservation in South Dakota where the dammed waters of the Missouri River encroach on the grazing land of of men like Cook-Lynn's father.
At Dawn, Sitting in My Father’s House

                                           I sit quietly
in the dawn; a small house in the Missouri breaks.
A coyote pads toward the timber, sleepless as I,
guilty and watchful. The birds are commenting on his
passing. Young Indian riders are here to take the old
man’s gelding to be used as a pick-up horse at the
community rodeo. I feel fine. The sun rises. 

                                           I see him
from the window; almost blind, he is on his hands and
knees gardening in the pale glow. A hawk, an early riser,
hoping for a careless rodent or blow snake, hangs in the wind-
current just behind the house; a signal the world is
right with itself.
                                           I see him
from the days no longer new chopping at the hard-packed
earth, mindless of the dismal rain. I hold the seeds
cupped in my hands. 


                                           The sunrise nearly finished
the old man’s dog stays here waiting, waiting, whines
at the door, lonesome for the gentle man who lived here. I
get up and go outside and we take the small footpath to the
flat prairie above. We may pretend.

—Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

Mt. Rushmore

Owls hang in the night air
between the visages of Washington, Lincoln
The Rough Rider, and Jefferson; and coyotes
mourn the theft of sacred ground.

A cenotaph becomes the tourist temple
of the profane.

—Elizabeth Cook-Lynn

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