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In Cheryl Savageau’s new book of poetry, Mother/Land, she radically re-maps New England as Native American space. Savageau retells and re-imagines creation stories, revealing a landscape of trees, ponds, rivers and mountains rich in meaning for Abenaki people, and weaves traditional, personal and family stories, with stories of colonization and resistance. Savageau’s “unhistory” tells the stories of her people without privileging the moment of contact with Europe as the defining moment for viewing the culture.
Mother/Land is beaded with gems from her mother’s jewel box—poems that tell stories of her mother’s life, and the complexities of survival and love in a family of mixed heritage.
Savageau’s work signals the reemergence of a people who have been described as “hiding in plain sight.” In contrast to stereotypical associations of Native Americans with “Mother Earth,” this poetry highlights the bittersweet complexities of the relationship between a woman and her homeland, whose bodies seem to be constantly under siege.
‘Mother/Land is restoring the world through the retelling of patterns passed woman to woman like songs to lips. In this familial place, where one haggles over Memere’s house dress, combs her Mama’s hair as if brushing a bird’s wing, employs mother-of-pearl to fill the black hole of her absence leaving buxom hills bare of trees. From this childhood where one might wear a dress of fall grass, cut ankles on witchgrass, and peer into a refrigerator to delineate a hummingbird from a moth; in the land of mothers, grandmothers, and their later lineal offspring, we come to terms with crossroads and swallows, rivers and oceans, and they lead us back home from which we began—the Motherland.’ —Allison Hedge Coke
‘Cheryl Savageau stares into stones of amber, opal, emerald, garnet, sapphire, amethyst, pearl, quartz, peridot, and onyx,recording every change of light and color they throw on old and new loves. She examines recurring characters and places from as many angled refractions as possible until one of the richest, fullest New England spiritual topographies ever written emerges. Readers who know Savageau’s earlier chronicling of those who sacralize and profane her homescape will be astonished at this poetic culmination of fully-drawn portraits. I fell, hard, for the boy under the drain pipe, the whale’s word for world, the slapping tails of children, the hummingbird in the refrigerator, the cathechist with knife in her teeth, the wife spraying breast milk at the breakfast table, the woodchuck too busy for crucifixions, the piano baptized in molasses, the parakeet’s family jewels, the leathered and lathered Doc Martened butch leading her woman around the dance floor, the lightning that converses with fireflies, and everyone, everything that busts out of the gamebag and into Cheryl Savageau’s poetry. This may be one of the best literary depictions of New England to date, certainly the finest one to challenge whatever is new and English about the place.’ —Craig S. Womack