There is a wealth of emotion and description in this small book (135 pages) of poetry, prose and plays. Flipping through to the poetry section I was caught up in the life of author Nora Marks Dauenhauer as a child learning at her grandfather's knee -- "A Poem for Jim Nagataak'w (Jakwteen)," "My Grandfather, Blind and Nearly Deaf" and "Grandpa Jakwteen in Eclipse."
The importance of the spoken history passed down from elder to youngster and on down through the clan throughout time is apparent in the last lines of "Grandpa Jakwteen in Eclipse": "Lucky for us, he lived to tell the story. No stone, and his descendants are like sand."
Continuing on with tradition, Dauenhauer tells the stories of her relatives -- Auntie Jennie, Grandmother Eliza -- memorials of people she has known -- Jeff David, her father, Willie Marks; and a haunting tribute to her Tlingit elders.
Of all the books we've done,
When I talk about you
All I feel is pain
At your absence.
As a grandmother myself, I identified with and appreciated the poem written for Dauenhauer's granddaughters Genny and Lenny, "Jumping Rope with Ocean Breakers, Yakutat, Alaska." The granddaughters are encouraged to play while being immersed in the aura and history of their ancestors. It is a lovely way to teach and pass on knowledge so it will not be forgotten. I can well imagine years from now as Genny and Lenny tell their granddaughters this same story.
"Life Woven with Song" is a compilation of stories and plays in addition to the poetry. Each piece carries a melodic message of life as it was and life as it can be as traditions are passed from elder to youngster. Mixed in among the stories are photographs taken by the author's husband. These, too, tell a story of native life -- family history.
One cannot help but be caught up in life as it was and wonder at what stories our own ancestors might have passed down if we had only listened. For those of us who are not native to this land, this book can be a professor. For those of us who have grown up in this land, this book can be a reminder.
Nora Marks Dauenhauer was born in Juneau and raised there and in Hoonah, as well as on the family fishing boat. Her first language is Tlingit and she is internationally recognized for her fieldwork in and transcription and translation of Tlingit oral literature. In 1989, she received an Alaska Governor's Award for the Arts, and in 1991 she was a winner of the Before Columbus Foundation's American Book Award. Black Current Press published Dauenhauer's first collection of poetry, "The Droning Shaman," in 1988. A mother of four, grandmother of 13 and great-grandmother of three, she is married to Richard Dauenhauer, himself a writer and former poet laureate of Alaska.
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