Saturday, July 18, 2020

Quote of the Day (Poet Alex Posey, on the Feverish July Air)

“The air without has taken fever;
Fast I feel the beating of its pulse.
The leaves are twisted on the maple,
In the corn the autumn's premature;
The weary butterfly hangs waiting
For a breath to waft him thither at
The touch, but falls, like truth unheeded,
into dust-blown grass and hollyhocks.”— Creek Indian poet Alexander L. Posey (1873-1908), “July,” reprinted in The Poems of Alexander Lawrence Posey (1910)

I came across these verses in as random a manner as possible.

When I picked up the Library of America anthology American Poetry: The Nineteenth Century, Vol. 2: Herman Melville to Stickney, American Indian Poetry, Folk Songs and Spirituals, literally the first page I opened contained the poem “July.” Right away, it appealed to me for several reasons:

*It was appropriate for this month;

*I could post this just as my area of the country, the Northeast, was about to embark on another heat wave; 

*The word “fever” in the first line struck me as a metaphor—not just for the hazy, hot and humid weather we get so much so much around here this time of year, but also for this overheated moment in America now with these three simultaneous crises: COVID-19, the recession, and the mass protests over racism and police brutality.

*But the American Poetry volume tipped me off to something more. In fact, Alex Posey—a poet I had never encountered before—deserves more attention now than he’s received in the century following the early death that tragically shortened his career.

Poet, journalist and political satirist, Posey aimed for a difficult balancing act: the integration of his concerns as a Creek Indian in Oklahoma with a traditional western education he received at the Bacone Indian University in Muskogee.

In the same month that the Supreme Court decided, in McGirt v. Oklahoma, that half of Oklahoma lies within a Native American reservation, Posey’s attempt to achieve recognition illustrates the dilemma of what aspects of tradition to draw upon in writing.  (It may have been especially difficult for Posey, the biracial son of a white man raised among the Native Americans and a Creek Indian mother.)

Posey died at age 34 in a boating accident, leaving a slender but promising body of work.

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