A dead bridge. A dead theory. The Bering Strait theory, dead to Native peoples, whose hundreds of creation accounts dispel those of anthropologists. This new collection by Mohawk poet, James Thomas Stevens, was written after a trip to China in 2002. After visiting the Catholic Xujiahui cathedral across from his hotel, he began research on Jesuit interactions with Asia. What he encountered there in the cathedral and in museums in Shanghai, was reminiscent of the history of Jesuits in his home in Iroquoia, especially in the Mohawk homelands along the Saint Lawrence River.
The first poem in the collection, (dis)Orient, addresses issues of charting and mapping, as well as issues of authority. It leads to short poems written in and about China, then on to the central poem, The Mutual Life, a poem of post-colonial and personal emergencies – a poem of healing, as well, based on a 1901 book of accidents, emergencies and illnesses published by the Mutual Life Insurance Company of New York. The poems proceeding are poems written in and about Iroquoia.
They are followed by my most recent undertaking, Alphabets of Letters, which explores the propaganda found in Native American children's primers from the time of our honored Mohawk chief, Joseph Brant, and the propaganda of rhetoric in general. This poem explores the rhetoric of empire and the short distance our world has moved toward understanding and communication in these past few centuries.
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