Authors and After Words

As a result of her remarkable productivity, Finishing Line Press of Georgetown, Kentucky has recently published Estella Lauter’s second chapbook in two years entitled The Essential Rudder; North Channel Poems. These poems came out of her experience with her family sailing the North Channel of Lake Huron between 1982 and 2002. Now, the inter-connected Great Lakes contain 20 percent of the world’s fresh water, which is enough to describe them collectively as an inland sea, so anyone with big water experience will recognize the feelings she recalls in these poems. This will be especially true of anyone who has looked over a thrumming bow into the black cloud of a rising squall. As true as the poems are to my sense of the sea, however, the dedication of this book begs another reflection. Lauter writes:

To the Anishinaabe (also called Ojibwe and Chippewa) people who have lived on and by the waters called the North Channel for centuries, whose cycles of songs, poems, dreams and stories continue to give voice to the indestructible elements of the past in the present.

Reading this dedication brought to my mind a curious thought. Later travelers to the Western Hemisphere from Spain, England, France, Portugal and The Netherlands divided the world and oriented their map into east and west, then designated the western hemisphere as “The New World.” Even so, wherever they were likely to sail or step foot or eventually and certainly canoe forth on these “new” lands, someone else had already been walking, swimming, and canoeing for eons. And with those eons of habitation, of living and multiplying and dying and brushing up against each other, of making and speaking languages, of turning their thoughts and experiences and dreams into art, into dance, music, poetry and wisdom, well, naturally, all of this would be there for those new comers – those with the eyes and ears and hearts and minds to do so – to discover as well.

The bulk of what survives of those native wisdom traditions expresses a deep harmony with nature and as is often the case, even in this modern world, when we, the descendants of those so different strangers directly experience nature ourselves and open our minds and hearts to that experience, we are likely to be captivated by it and moved by it and changed by it in ways that echo Native American poetry and song. That has been my experience, at least, and judging from the evidence of Lauter’s dedication and her poetry, she too has been deeply marked by these voyages and by the resonance of the nature centered art those earlier Americans created.

It is miraculous how, for all of the devastation that occurred as a result of the European possession of the Americas – their name for this hemisphere, of course – significant materials have survived the centuries, mostly through the tenacity of the Native Americans, to be sure, but also with the aid of the new comers who have seen beyond their ancestor’s cultural imperialism. While the Spanish soldiers burned the Mayan libraries, monks collected what they could to transcribe and save the Popol Vuh, ancient book of the Quiché Maya. While Kiowa children were transcribing and illustrating their “Saynday” stories in ledger books, others, like Alice Marriot, transcribed those same stories as told to her by George Hunt, in order to be sure that those same stories would be preserved. A great collection of Native American poetry and ritual song appears under the title, Shaking the Pumpkin, edited by Jerome Rothenburg. Three of the Chippewa song pictures collected in that volume are embedded in this column. These picture-poems speak to the connection between us and water and resonate with the ambience of Lauter’s remarkable poems.

No matter our ethnicity, once we open our experience to the quiet Now of the world, the universal breath that permeates the land and moves the water, we are bound to hear echoes of those who have sung these transcendent mysteries in earlier words and rhythms. There is one such poem that I came across years ago. It comes from the Modoc tribe of California and was translated by the anthropologist, A. L. Kroeber in 1925. I found it in a collection called The Magic World, selected and edited by William Brandon. It contains everything I know about art and why we human beings – all of us – make it. It goes:

the song
I walk here.

In The Essential Rudder, Estella Lauter reveals how she too has lived the song and it is a joy to sail along with her on the great and forever Now of art, nature and the inland sea.