I Swallow Turquoise for Courage

Feb 15th, 2008 | By | Category: 19-3: Beyond Our Names: Uncovering Identity, Media Reviews

The University of Arizona Press (2007)

Review by Michael Thompson

This wonderful new collection might easily have been called, after poet Wallace Stevens, 28 Ways of Looking at Coyote. Mixing archetypes and modernism, Hershman R. John suggests how applicable the Diné Creation Story is even today, overlaying his contemporary observations with stories of Ma’ii, Spider Woman, and various other Holy Beings.

Grandmas hold a significant place in his writings from beginning to end: his own grandma and all grandmas.  In the first poem, we meet her as she washes her hair with yucca among sand dunes, and near the closing, we recall her scolding as it echoes from the canyons.

Most of us take for granted the many marvels of the places where we’ve lived or visited. John revels in the sights, sounds, and smells of his life.  He also delves into hard-to-ignore social issues and pays tribute to a number of artists who seem to have spoken vividly to him: Van Gogh, Anne Sexton, Elizabeth Bishop, and Basho.

Local heroes like the Navajo Code Talkers are also acknowledged. And he is experimental enough to pattern one highly visual poem after the Tuba City rug design. John exudes joy, gratitude, and humor in this first offering of 28 poems. His is a welcome voice.

Michael Thompson (Mvskoke Creek) is an English instructor and writer whose work has been published in several journals.  He resides in Farmington, NM.

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