In Name Only   .   .   . : A Review


Maurice Kenny

As the editor's introduction to this huge tome [The Best of Crazyhorse: Thirty Years of Poetry and Fiction, edited by David Jauss (Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1990), 468 pages] states, Crazyhorse was, indeed, an Oglala Dakota man of tremendous stature with his people. He was known as the "pale one" or the Light-Haired Boy, and alternately, the Glorious Warrior, "the man of the people," Curley, and the Strange One. Born on the Plains between 1838 and 1842, he was assassinated by a white man - a soldier - as he stepped from a jail cell September 7, 1877,   .   .   .   Mourned by his people, he was respected greatly by Native Americans and Anglos alike. He truly was an epic hero. A man of great physicality, strength, moral conviction and human integrity, a man of silence and also of action, a dreamer and visionary. It does seem fitting that an American literary review, Crazyhorse, be named after him in honor and recognition of his greatness. And surely editor Jauss suggests that honor in the introduction.

However, of the 83 poems and pieces of fiction included in this 30-year retrospective not one is authored by a Native American writer. This pays no honor to Crazy Horse nor to his achievements as a leader. Perhaps no Native writers have appeared in the magazine pages over these 30 years - but it seems odd, crazy, that no Native author was worthy enough to include   .   .   .   This is 1991 not 1877. Yet the "massacres" and "assassinations" seem to prevail.

The above fact is sad, indeed, difficult to deal with when one looks at the incredible list of American authors collected in this book, authors of huge reputations, some of whom may live out this century because of the sterling gifts they possess. Obviously it was a difficult task for Jauss   .   .   .   to make choices whom to include. Surely during all this time there must have been one Native poet or storyteller of a quality to merit inclusion. A reader cannot help but wonder what Thomas McGrath, the first editor of the magazine, would think were he living at this moment and scanning down the contents.

Yet the work included in this retrospect is amazing, challenging, sparkling, with such authors as Jack Anderson, John Ashbury, Robert Bly, Carolyn Forché, Garrett Lau Hongo, Gary Soto, Charles Simic, John Updike and James Wright, though there does seem a predominance of males.

They tell us it is a free country; an editor has rights, needs and certain prejudices and biases. This bias, however, is shocking and takes away from the glory and beauty and strength of The Best of Crazy Horse. It is true that the great Oglala leader/warrior was buried in a sacred place - a secret place. Perhaps the contemporary Native authors have been interred beside him in the dark cave.

Readers of American literature might be encouraged to buy and read this collection. It shimmers even though there is a smudge on the sheen.

© 1991 Maurice Kenny
Reprinted in On Second Thought, University of Oklahoma Press.

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