REVIEWS OF GARY DAVID'S TIERRA ZIA
Review by Karl Kopp
The Bloomsbury Review, Sept./Oct. 1997, Vol. 17/Issue 5
Illustrated by Dawn Senior
nine muses books, 1996
$8.00 paper + $2.00 S & H
New Mexico ("Tierra Zia") is a place where the echo lingers of lost cities, lost ancestors. Its very names are evocative, whether "Indian" or Spanish. Chaco. Tsankawi. Acoma. Chetro Ketl. Sangre de Cristo.
All the major themes and images are here. The haunting presence of the ancient ones (Where did they go? Why did they leave?), the hideous travesty of The Bomb, or death amidst the beauty, the "spectral skies," unlike no other ("A blue so/quick it quivers/into indigo/ everywhere/your eyes turn."), the visual paradox of rich and poor, newcomers and those who have lived here for centuries, turquoise, ristras, petroglyphs.
Tierra Zia is a gem of a book, beautifully illustrated in black-and-white pen and ink drawings by a Native American artist (from photographs taken by the author)--- faithful reproductions through two different media of ruins and wall drawings etched by the Anasazi hundreds of years before.
In “Morning at Tsankawi” the drawings and the words give an immediate effect of "being there" at the cliff ruins (near Los Alamos) but also frame a journey through art into mystery ("migration routes/which draw one inward still").
The style changes in the starker poems about The Bomb, in "Oppie" (Oppenheimer) and in the following "Trinity Citations."
I: J. Robert Oppenheimer
The Fruit in the Midst of the Garden
(Or, Why I Built the Gadget)
It was technically
II: General James T. Farrell
The Truth of the Matter
It was that beauty
the great poets dream about
but describe most poorly
III: Edward Teller
Sinners in the Hands of an Angry Bomb
The things we are working on
are so terrible
no amount of protesting
or fiddling with politics
will save our souls.
My favorite poem in the book is the title poem, "Tierra Zia," in which "New Mexico" itself speaks through the medium of the poet, a visionary and "deep" work. To quote from it is impossible. The whole thing is a web and must be felt. The title also refers to the "land" or the "world" of the poet's young daughter, named "Zia." What is the nature of this world she has entered? What does she inherit? What beauty will she find? How do we preserve it?
The final poem, "Envoi: Touching the Teacher," poignantly brings the book not to a close but "full circle."
My daughter dancing, her eyes
learn the ways of the world
as she follows the line on the first map
she makes with a purple pen:
Slumberland, Castle of Evil Wizards,
Island of Faeries, Island of the Princess
she says she is. Dreamland ...
"That's much bigger than the world,"
I say. Through cloud gauze
on the evening horizon, the sun clots.
"Why do we live in this planet?"
She whirls the indigo veil
of her wings, skips and leaps a tipsy
pirouette. "To learn to do
things, to learn..." but
tired of talk, she breezes off
before I can add: "to love--
to love before we leave."
Where did they go, the ancient ones? What do we see and learn? Where are we going? The mystery remains.
Ruins Runes by Joe Napora
Small Press Review, Jan.-Feb. 1998
Tierra Zia, poems by Gary David, Illustrated by Dawn Senior,
nine muses books, 1996; $8.00, ISBN:1-878888-19-6. 40 pp,
3541 Kent Creek Road, Winston OR 97496
From time's wreckage shored,
these fragments shored against ruin... (Canto CX)
Except for three years living in San Francisco & Berkeley during the late Sixties, I've not spent much time in the West. But if, when, I do return, it won't be to any city. I'll search out the past that remain in the present, as a present, and I'll take this book of poems with me, Gary David's Tierra Zia. This book is a tour guide of the language and land of New Mexico by a poet whose previous book of poems, A Log of Deadwood, mapped out the upper midwest Dakotas as a reclamation project against not only the destroyers of the landscape but also the destroyers of the mindscape (the land grabbing miners and the purveyors of the myth of progress that justified the ruination). Ed Dorn praised David's "Log" as a "verse documentary" that "may well be the light of the future." If so, that light has yet to be seen by enough people since A Log of Deadwood dropped as such into a forest of hyped mediocre poetry so that, well you know, even if it made a sound there was no one to hear it. So I suggest that readers who want to know the state of Western poetry read Tierra Zia for the necessary emotional registry then move (be moved) to A Log of Deadwood, subtitled A Postmodern Epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush for the facts of the destruction.
I have only briefly visited the archeological remains of the habitation of the original peoples of the West, but I have spent many hours among the ruins of the Native American Indian mounds of the midwest. I am familiar with the archeology of loss, of looking at fragments and how "time's wreckage" provokes the imagination. I have yet to read a poem that takes "these fragments shored against ruin" and transforms them into poetry as well as David’s poem "Through the Mouth of Chaco Canyon."
This poem has, for me, a haunting footnote. It reads, "Until recently a spiral petroglyph on Fajada Butte precisely indicated solstice and equinox dates." Ever since I heard of this petroglyph and seen a picture of it, I have used it as my metaphor for poetry: language that is rough, natural, but precise, language that over reaches itself in its connection, as part of the earth itself, to connect the maker with the heavens in order for the community to see and understand the self as inherently cosmic. As David's poem documents, the solar observatory is now also a ruin, destroyed by "waffle-soled boots." By some eco-tourist? Some New Age self-absorbed boor? There is no blame, but there is this record of the wreck, and every writer should read it:
We know the bolt action
of our own time, but don't succeed
in making whole again
these broken pots.
Well, we don't. And we won't. But these poems struggle to do so. And they do, to the limit of what is possible, and that's the limit we need to know more about if we are to stop destroying and begin construction something of value from the waste. In the same poem David, who never loses sight of the present, never allows the language to turn impotent in nostalgia, mentions his daughter turning on the television to watch cartoons: "A coyote drops another anvil / off a cliff." David brings in The Trickster obliquely, as he must. There have been too many poets using and abusing the Native American cosmic comic trickster for that character to move us any longer. David wisely leaves it alone, leaves it where it works best, tv land. Coyote, Bugs Bunny as Nanabush, maybe even Beavis and ButtHead, are there for our children to enable them to see more clearly the ruins we continue to leave behind us. Gary David and the artist Dawn Senior give us this other way of seeing, from the fragments the intimation of the whole, which, as we should know, is the real name for the holy.
Mandrake Poetry Review of Tierra Zia, Vol II, Number 3
Editor: David Castleman
This [“The River Within the Tree” quoted in full] is a lovely paean to the poet’s daughter and, almost parenthetically, to his wife her mother. This is a celebration of his daughter's deliverance through a land of multitudinous potential errors into the delicate harbor of a land fraught with many manifest errors, and the poet is more beholden to Samuel Coleridge than he is to William Butler Yeats stylistically.
Mr. David is everywhere an enthusiast in his life, and I use the term in that rigorous eighteenth century manner. He has discovered the harsh beauties of New Mexico and of Old Mexico and he has embraced them, and this book is a contemplation of them, with praise for the tantalizing Anasazi, with condemnation for J. Robert Oppenheimer who brought us the great psychedelic mushroom bloom on the Los Alamos plains. All things Indian are obligatorily revered and all things European are obligatorily reviled, albeit mildly reviled.
Everywhere here is mild exuberance, enjoyably brought forth.
Review by Michael Crye
Po’Flye internationale, fall 1997
Tierra Zia (poetry & illustrations)
words Gary David
images Dawn Senior
I have come to know Gary’s work as a strong western voice, steep with local and mythical streams of thought. Yet, earthbound and very strong in an all too unspiritual way. This book is actually more of a departure from that voice. There is less America in this book, more earth. It does peek out in tunes like “Coronado On the Interstate (At Kuaua Ruins)” and “St. Francis Feeds the Bag Lady” but for the most part we see a truly beautiful picture of land, family, and ruins.
Dawn’s art is a clean pen and ink mark on the whole book. Looking more like the diary notes of early monks than pictures. All in all this is a very personal book.
REVIEWS OF A LOG OF DEADWOOD
A Log of Deadwood: A Postmodern Epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush,
by Gary David, North Atlantic Books, P.O. Box 12327, Berkeley, CA 94701, 1993,
ISBN 1-55643-156-2, $9.95 143 pages.
Review by Susan Sheppard (Read Poems by Susan Sheppard.)
Winter 1994, Chiron Review
Last year, without much fanfare, a book of poetry was released which is destined to change contemporary literature of the American West. Poet Gary David's A Log of Deadwood, is like entering a rich dream, an alternative world, where bits of history involving place, (namely Deadwood, South Dakota of the 1870's) interact not only with the present, but with cultures and ideas that do not seem outwardly connected --- most specifically, The Tibetan Book of The Dead, the spiritual beliefs of the Lakota Sioux Indians, the drunken reveries of gold seekers and local cow pokes, and old Teutonic myths from Viking culture.
At first glance, such a blending of cultures might seem wildly incongruous. Yet, this is precisely why David's A Log of Deadwood is so unforgettable and unique. He is able to draw comparisons and parallels between cultures and times that most writers would certainly miss. In his first few poems, David invokes the powers of the Four Directions, an idea important to the Sioux Indians, but with a twist. From his poem Day 5 Sunday, June 25, 1876:
From the Northern Realm, the frost giants come
firm & clean as the hoary winds
thru the evergreen that root
round the rune-echoing well
In this era of "Native American hype," (it's been over 100 years since Wounded Knee -- admittedly -- it's about time for a few apologies) Gary David moves intuitively in the direction that the current cultures of South Dakota, which seem so outwardly opposed to each other (such as the Scandinavians and the Native Americans) actually share many of the same values, after all. Both groups have been fierce individualists, with eerily similiar spiritual visions, and basically, we're the same fruit ripening, left to wither and die on the tree of man.
It's all so simple, how do we miss it? And yet, we do -- time and time again. But this brings up, perhaps, the greatest injustice of all -- trivializing Native American culture by claiming it as our own, and then pretending we care too much.
When reading or watching movies about America's native peoples it's usually time to get out our hankies because the typical way is to wax sentimental so we can "safely" lament the passing away of the "noble savage." Not so with Ohio-born poet Gary David who understands the Lakota culture too intimately to dis-empower its people with any forced sentimentality.
At one point in A Log of Deadwood, a man turns up in town with the severed head of a young Lakota warrior. From his poem Day 43 August 2. 1876:
In Deadwood, a young redskin's head
wise as the doctor's, an old lore
sleep-talking from its lips, spirits
of a tongue coming from afar, whips
a medicine up on the north winds
from the north
a sacred-stone nation
you will hear
For the most part, A Log of Deadwood is a lengthy montage of great poetry which is hypnotic, hallucinogenic and historically accurate. There are several moments in the poem which are weirdly delightful -- such as David's use of old runic symbols to "divine" the meanings of each day as well as passages from the Tibetan Book of The Dead juxtaposed against bawdy, shit-kicking cowboy songs.
Some of Gary David's poetry is jazzed up by attention-grabbing erotic sequences, and there is one grisly photograph of the death mask of "Big Nosed George" (a character from Deadwood) alongside shoes made from his own dead flesh, which is enough to turn you green, not to mention invade your dreams!
With a richly informed imagination, Gary David has recreated a universe placing the Black Hills of South Dakota at dead center. (Not surprisingly, this is the way the Lakota Sioux see it as well.)
For poet Gary David, every place is sacred space. And likewise each character he invokes, each spot of land he divines, each way of seeing, is cause enough for the spiritual evocations which makes up A Log of Deadwood. You won't find a finer book of poetry written about this almost forgotten place and time. And believe me, you won't forget it either.
(Susan Sheppard is a poet and artist from Parkersburg, West Virginia. Her Phoenix Cards, a cordage and book of her invention, has sold 45,000 copies worldwide. Her novel The Gallows Tree: A Mothman's Tale will be published in late 2004. Sheppard currently performs with "The Blackbirds," a poetry performance group.)
Blood Language of the Black Hills: A Mytho/Historical View of Deadwood
Review by Judy Merritt
Inside the Black Hills, Summer/Fall 1993
For the indigenous cultures of this continent, land is more than the ground upon which they place their feet -- it is a consciousness of place where there is a sacred interaction with the landscape. The landscape itself creates and dictates that interaction, which is defined and constantly renewed through mythology, art and ritual. The language of the Earth resonates with the language of the blood that pulses through their veins.
If we have the ability to listen, we can understand this indigenous concept of life-related-to-land. Gary David, a Rapid City author, not only has the ability to hear the language of place, but he also possesses a wonderful ability to translate it to his readers through myth and poetry set in the historical context of Deadwood during its Goldrush days in 1876.
His recently published book, A Log of Deadwood, takes us to the streets of Deadwood in a magical, sometimes shocking, no-holds-barred multi-layered exploration into the story-- and the stories behind the story of how a race of people could emerge unto sacred land and treat it as a material resource.
We get a glimpse of the motivation for this exploration in a quote used in the introduction:
"About 2000 years ago the Nordic Teutons began to emerge from their homes in the frozen north. Toward the east, south and west they moved slowly but resolutely, overrunning the old Roman Empire, displacing and exterminating entire races. In England they left hardly a vestige of the former inhabitants. They continued expansion against the laws of God and man, penetrating Asia, Africa, Australia and America, and here in 1876 we observe them beginning to filter through into seemingly inaccessible fastnesses of the Black Hills." --Henry Onsgard, South Dakota Historical Collections, Vol. XIII
This montage of images and musical intonations are structurally held together by the 49 day Bardo of the Tibetan Book of the Dead, drawing upon the symbols and colors cited within each day of this Bardo. ("Each life is a Bardo state between lives, torn by the winds of karma and incessant change. ")
David then layers Nordic and German mythological characters such as Lucky Coyote, Farley O'Din, Freya Freeley and Thorvald Bloodaxe with the real life characters like the 'spectors (prospectors), Wild Bill and Calamity Jane. All are set In the background of the Lakota knowledge of the spirit of the land of the Black Hills.
If this sounds too confusing and you know nothing about the Tibetan Book of the Dead or Nordic mythology, don't worry This is poetry in its finest form All you need to do is read it aloud and the language will speak to your blood consciousness, a less rational way of understanding.
There were moments on these pages that I recognized from deep dream space--a sense of deja vu. There were also moments of sheer delight as David turns the language upside down and inside out. "Calamity Jane howls muddy blurter / as her body's taken by a foker-paced sharp / in a hand of jive-starred cud." I'm sure his character Ink Tommy the Spider put him up to these antics.
We are shown Deadwood in the "past/present/future tense." "The 'spectors / quixotic jackpots are lead / somewhere over the rainbow into / what was / the late Lakota holy land / the yellow brick road crosses / the cracked & run-down inter-state / the buffalo used / to migrate the Milky Way / to the spirit world, the red road."
There is power in these hills, but much negative power has been unearthed with the ripping out of the bowels of the earth to mine the gold. The book ends in a haunting prophecy of what is here and what is to come if we don't understand the spirit of these Sacred Black Hills, if we don't listen to the language of the blood that the Plains Indians understood before the white invasion.
A primer for this language is Gary David's book, A Log of Deadwood.
Review by Barbara Ordahl
Book Marks: South Dakota Library Association, July/August 1993
The story of the Black Hills gold rush has been told and retold, but perhaps never like this. Poet Gary David, in what he calls a postmodern epic, weaves together mythology, literature, pop culture and meticulously researched history to tell a lurid tale of greed and anguish.
David, who lives near Rapid City, intersperses dreamlike images of the land ("Ah!... Ah!..." / the grasses of the plains seem to whisper, their waves breaking ashore. Come, come into the Black Hills.) and nightmarish visions of vengeful gods (You will know them / by their actions: eating brains, drinking / blood, tearing out hearts, tearing off heads. ) among portrayals of actual historical events.
As told by the poet, the discovery of gold in the Black Hills (the late Lakota holy land) was nothing short of Apocalypse for the Sioux way of life and for the land itself. The prospectors of 1876 were a scourge that forever changed the Black Hills, that inland evergreen island the Lakota call "the heart of the world."
David does a good job of providing background for his long, complex poem with a preface and a prelude, and the selected bibliography at the back of the book includes The Tibetan Book of the Dead (in several translations), poetry titles and books about Norse mythology, Black Hills history and scientific subjects.
This is a compelling, powerful piece of storytelling that demands more than one reading.
Review by Tom Hansen
Another Chicago Magazine, #29, 1995
Rather than writing an intellectually comprehensible history, Gary David offers us a sensually apprehensible experience: the sight and sound and stick and taste and touch of the siren song of Deadwood, South Dakota, in the gold rush days of 1876. Superficially a series of forty-nine daily entries recording events in the lives of actual and fictional characters associated with Deadwood, the poem is really a revisionist, demythologized antihistory-- a self-consciously self-decomstructing logomontage often using unidentified quotes from sources as diverse as Badger Clark, Carl Jung, Arthur Rimbaud, The Wizard Of Oz, historical records, period songs, and others. The poem, like the world it celebrates and castigates, is fragmentary and discontinuous, always on the brink of dissolution.
Its mythic background is the Norse Ragnarok: the apocalyptic Twilight of the Gods. Its chaotic foreground is a localized version of one of the great fictions of American history, Manifest Destiny-- in this case, motivated by the sweltering lust of gold fever. Human caricatures of Norse Gods (wanderer Farley O'Din, hooker Freya Freeley, and a ragbag assortment of others) are consumed by their various lusts, here on "an island of evergreen the Lakota call Paha Sapa, the sacred Black Hills, the heart of the world." David reveals the swirling incoherence of their lives in a series of rapid-fire, jump-cut juxtapositions frequently studded with puns-- as, for example, in air early passage about Freya:
A she-goat among bucks
showing herself shamleshly [sic]
(mouth full o' um ... )
under moonclit prickpine.
A mare deriding men
to kick the wild oats bucket.
Fuckette of all the gods
and worm-sucked clods of Deadwood....
Details of her tawdry adventures sometimes parody the self-parodic dialogue ("Oh-god-I'm-coming-I'm-coming") of generic grunt-and-thrust pornography.
At the other extreme are passages paraphrasing or briefly quoting The Tibetan Book Of The Dead and The Secret Of the Golden Flower, reminding us that however seductively it may sing to our senses, the world is maya, mere illusion: "being apparent yet nonexistent."
In yet other passages, the seemingly irreconcilable extremes of passionate attachment and compassionate nonattachment are held together in a state of tension in the consciousness of one who, though seduced by the siren song of what seems, nonetheless realizes the futility of all this sound and fury. This consciousness, found exclusively in the entries designated "A Leaf From The Old Man's Journal" for the four consecutive Wednesdays (Odin's days) nearest the middle of the book, rejects "I AM" (the One-And-Only True, God-Revealed Way), putting its faith, instead, in "IT" (fate, the Norse equivalent of the Anglo-Saxon wyrd). But the roiling images which follow suggest that our common fate is simply to be caught up in the reality of the dream of the dead-wood world:
IT is a boiling river
running beneath my eyes.
IT is a white-hot ember
the world & all
its objects burn with.
IT is a curtain of blood & a streamer of dream swirling
through the ever-nimble fingers of a nimbus wind.
IT is a spectral maelstrom of atomized rainbows.
IT is a veil of shades restlessly rustling adrift gossamer ghosts
across a field of vision. . .
At the end of the Gotterdammerung section, the poem, like its world, dissolves-- not with a bang or a whimper, but with an AUM. With the sounding of the sacred syllable, it passes from A, outward-turncd waking consciousness (the ordinary perception of the world as real); to U, inward-turned dreaming consciousness (the Buddhist-Hindu realization of the world as dream); to M, soundless depth of deep dreamless sleep (the serene and boundless oceanic void), out of which U-and A-state consciousness pour and back into which they dissolve-- in cycles, as Whitman says in "Song of Myself," of "preparation and accretion."
Review by R.R. Lee Etzwiler
Taproot Reviews, # 5, Summer 1994
Labeled a postmodern epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush, Gary David's work does attempt to deconstruct a period of history limited to an active linear journal-like format whereby most conventions are broken down & accented with images from The Wizard of Oz, The Tibetan Book of the Dead, the Old American West; utilizing Viking fury, Jungian Symbolism, Sioux Legends, & even a touch of hard science. Actually 49 presences, each a poem, each a day in the journal of Deadwood 1876. From "Day 25": "...spear-shaker, you're gonna cry / 96 tears!" Or, from "Day 48": "I feel my days / over the mirror of its pages.// ...white stone black stone / make. // Gung ho & hard on / rising red, but on the run."
Review by Susan Smith Nash
Taproot Reviews # 6, 1995
Poetry of historicity-- the result is somewhat tame because of its self-consciously academic nature, but interesting nonetheless. Maybe it's the cowboy in it all. Deadwood refers to the Dakota gold mining rough-n-ready times; in fact, the book purports to be a "Postmodern Epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush." David owes much to Edward Dorn, whose Gunslinger echoes throughout these pages. David's work reminds me of another poet, Bill Sherman, whose surreal meditations upon Old Mesilla bring out the gothic & grotesque lurking in every ghost town.
Review by Michael Crye
Poetry Fly, December 1994
"A postmodern Epic of the South Dakota Gold Rush" which spins the usually limited american traditions & history into a multi-layered vista of cross culture sources, including norse, sioux, & Tibetan (to name a few) ...the overall effect is pure texture, weaving the tale of Wounded Knee on the edge of Ragnarok.... the poems vary in form & verse, matching that of the mouth & logic of the story's many characters....some unstudied readers will become lost & even the prepared will stumble on some of these poems & their intent, but the poems as a whole left me thinking in many directions & satisfied.