I have heard Kiowa writer and Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday say in his beautifully deep, musical voice that he believes poetry to be the highest form of expression, and that he aspires to be a poet — modest words for the Native elder who is the honored grandfather of 20th- and 21st-century American Indian literature.
In "Dream Drawings: Configurations of a Timeless Kind," Momaday's newest collection, poetry, fiction, essays and scholarly research are juxtaposed with selected sketches in black and white, words and pictures on a page that live and breathe as they are read. This genre-blending expression of Momaday's love of language, dreams and the creative process is simultaneously playful, childlike, ageless and timeless.
The 100 poems and short sketches in this collection — of encounters with other human beings and the creatures and terrains of the Earth; of Momaday's memories and tribal histories and sacred stories; of happenings in the world, past and present; and the deep spiritual pondering by an Indigenous man who has observed and thought about these things with the growing wisdom that comes with decades of life on the layered storyforming of tangibles and intangibles — are as simple and complex as our collective existence.
Each is a small gem, a glass seed that is part of the pattern on a piece of Native beadwork: By itself it has its own character and texture, its own beauty and completeness. Woven or sewn into the pattern created by the artist, the individual beads together anchor the art and become the design that tells the larger story.
"Dream Drawings" can be read straight through, from beginning to end, in much the same way that a piece of beadwork is constructed and the intricacies of the pattern become a design that is whole. Reread and treasured, the book can be kept chairside, or bedside and a piece that has become the favorite of the day or minute revisited.
This reviewer may read first, each time, the loving profundity of "To a Child This Gift" and then randomly page back and forth with N. Scott Momaday, whose voice will be in each and every lyrical configuration of words.
Linda LeGarde Grover is professor emerita of American Indian Studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth and a member of the Bois Forte Band of Ojibwe. Her memoir "Onigamiising: Seasons of an Ojibwe Year" received a 2018 Minnesota Book Award.
Dream Drawings: Configurations of a Timeless Kind
By: N. Scott Momaday.
Publisher: HarperCollins, 128 pages. $ 17.99 trade paperback.