The Poets Wendy Rose (1948- )


About the Poet

A blend of poet, historian, painter, illustrator, and anthropologist, Wendy Rose rejects marginalization. Issued under her birth name Bronwen Elizabeth Edwards and the pseudonym Chiron Khanshendel, as well as Rose, her realistic writings, watercolors, and pen-and-ink sketches defy those who relegate native American artisans to a passing fad. As spokesperson for ecology, women, and the dispossessed, she maintains a balanced outlook devoid of bitterness. She is intent on making positive connections, and she uses verse to mark spiritual boundaries.

A native of Oakland, California, of Hopi, Miwok, and Scottish-German ancestry, Rose was born on May 7, 1948, and grew up in a predominantly white environment. After attending Cabrillo College and Contra Costa College, she earned a B.A. and M.A. in cultural anthropology from the University of California at Berkeley, where she entered a doctoral program while teaching ethnic and native American studies. To account for her support of the Light of Dawn Temple, a San Francisco occult research center, she published a premier volume, Hopi Roadrunner Dancing (1973). She followed with verse in Long Division: A Tribal History (1976), Academic Squaw: Reports to the World from the Ivory Tower (1977), Poetry of the American Indian (1978), Builder Kachina: A Home-Going Cycle (1979), and a Pulitzer Prize nominee, Lost Copper (1980), an anguished statement of the native American blended identity. Departing from the negativity of earlier works, she composed What Happened When the Hopi Hit New York (1982) and The Halfbreed Chronicles and Other Poems (1985), self-illustrated volumes that recapture the beauties of chant and establish her admiration for fellow native authors Leslie Marmon Silko, Paula Gunn Allen, and Joy Harjo.

While coordinating American Indian studies at Fresno City College, Rose edited American Indian Quarterly, a vehicle for her struggle to be known as more than a native American relic. Candor has earned her other positions with the Smithsonian Native Writers' Series, Women's Literature Project of Oxford University Press, Modern Language Association Commission on Languages and Literature of the Americas, and Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines. Her more recent volumes include Going to War with All My Relations: New and Selected Poems (1993), Bone Dance: New and Selected Poems, 1965-1993 (1994), and Now Poof She Is Gone (1994).

Chief Works

In retort to insensitive faculty at Berkeley, "Academic Squaw" (1980) taunts her detractors with a pejorative self-labeling title. The poet employs the image of battered bone as the springboard to a native American sense of self. As though glorying in fragility and imperfection, the poet-speaker depicts her ancestry as a smudged design with "bowl-rim warped / from the beginning." Fleshing out a human frame with "jumping blood," saliva, and melted eyes, she marvels that so haphazard an ancestry allows a "random soul" to survive. The patchwork imagery moves to a surprise rhyme (trained/drained) and a defiant address, "Grandmother, / we've been framed." The sturdy ending suggests that Rose, like her native foremothers, has no intention of building a life around victimization.

"If I Am Too Brown or Too White for You" (1985), one of Rose's dialogues spoken to an unidentified "you," clarifies her place as individual and poet in a world obsessed with categorizing. Toying with visual images, she moves from two colors in the title to the bold introduction of "a garnet woman" who is neither "crystal arithmetic" nor a "cluster." To account for her dreams and blackbird pulse, she builds on the notion of a semiprecious stone that reflects the color of blood, a layered image that suggests pure and mixed blood ancestry as well as the bloodshed that followed the arrival of Europeans to the Western Hemisphere.

To express the Anglo world's obsession with race, Rose envisions a seeker selecting polished river stone by color. She employs the term "matrix / shattered in winter," which draws on the etymology of matrix from "mater," Latin for mother. Native productivity suffered in a wintry era, the 1870s, when white society conquered native American tribes. Imperfect, clouded, and mixed in the late twentieth century, the stone's interior shelters a "tiny sun / in the blood," the pure aboriginal element that gives rise to song. By claiming a tie with the native story keeper, Rose nourishes that portion of Indian heritage that can't be drubbed out or winnowed away. Her verse establishes the value of native poems as embodiments of native chant, a sacred utterance that defines and elevates.

Discussion and Research Topics

1. Account for the dream vision at the heart of Rose's "To the Hopi in Richmond" and "Oh My People I Remember."

2. Summarize images of femininity in Rose's "Newborn Woman, May 7, 1948."

3. Characterize Rose's creation of dialogue between a poetic voice and the epigraph of "I expected . . .," "Three Thousand Dollar Death Song," "What the Mohawk Made the Hopi Say," and "Halfbreed Chronicles."

4. Contrast autobiographical concerns in Rose's "Neon Scars," "Vanishing Point: Urban Indian," and "Naming Power" with personal reflections in the confessional poems of Elizabeth Bishop, Anne Sexton, Robert Lowell, and James A. Wright.