KNAU's Southwest Book Review: Sherwin Bitsui's "Flood Song"

Sep 9, 2014

"Flood Song" is the second book by writer Sherwin Bitsui. The collection of post-modern poems is both lyrically fragmented and linguistically stunning and combines the author's experiences living on and off the Navajo Nation, where he was born. In KNAU's latest Southwest Book Review, commentator Mary Sojourner says "Flood Song" is a gorgeous collision of images.

Credit Copper Canyon Press

To read Navajo writer Sherwin Bitsui's poetry collection "Flood Song" is to be swept up in a torrent of red clay water - in a desert wash, in a city canal. Just as the reader wonders if she'll survive, an old fence post spins within reach and she is carried through a flash flood of hawks and gasoline and television snow. Through memories of mother. Through the tricky balance of moving in two worlds - on and off the Reservation.

"I bite my eyes shut between these songs," Bitsui begins. And later, "I offer a dry stem, unfold this paper crane into a square cage." Each image stops the reader. 'Consider this,' Bitsui says to us, 'come with me in a dance that has never been choreographed. Come with me into my heritage, my longing, my worlds, my people.'

Bitsui shapes his language on an armature of rhythm - the slow creak of the desert seasons, the desperate hyperventilation of city streets. Despite the sometimes dizzying juxtaposition of images, those rhythms puls steadily through "Flood Song" - "I pull electricity from their softened bellies with loom yarn. I map a shrinking map."

"Flood Song" is a floating map, a map of homeland and dislocation. The poet writes from the back country and border towns of the Reservation. He writes from "a window slick with coyote's sweat," to "ladders of forest smoke," to "police sirens trickling from water jars." Bitsui says that much of the book was written far from home: in parking lots, waiting rooms, airplane terminals and in the early mornings when he couldn't sleep.

The poet has described "Flood Song" as one collision in a long history of collisions. This one burns with a furious light. The reader emerges from the book as through from a crash, words swirling in her mind, astonished at what she has seen and what lies before her, newly discovered.