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Fishing for Myth
by Heid Erdrich

Fishing for Myth

Reviewed by Monica Wittstock

In Fishing for Myth, a collection of poems by Heid E. Erdrich, the readers are able to take part in the poet's exploration of myths that are grounded together in the experience of everyday life and memory. For Erdrich, the myths that she writes in her poems become part of everyday life. It is as though she is letting us in on a very juicy secret that she is telling us in installments. I get the feeling that Heid Erdrich has only just begun to tell us her secrets through poetry.

These myths/poems/secrets are exhilarating and Erdrich assures us they can be real or imagined, or more likely, a combination of both. They include landscapes of cities, rivers, deserts, boyfriends, sisters and dogs and they do what they are intended to do. They stir. This is Barthes' "punctum" the place of puncture, the action that moves you, when something is no longer docile. I experience many punctums in Erdrich's poetry. For example, the line from "Short Hand" that says, "See the nun with the murderer's thumbs,"(55). In "Animoosh" she writes, "I would stare until I saw her-always just beyond me, bounding through the long field of goldenrod and sun" (60). This is a girl wishing and believing that the dog of her dreams will appear and will know her and will know her. The sense of longing Erdrich evokes for this kind of knowing speaks to a longing many people experience as the unbearable loneliness of childhood.

Erdrich also manages to do what remains elusive to many poets - she writes convincingly and honestly about nature and her ongoing relationship with it. It is no easy task to look, smell and be in nature and then try to tell it in a way that is fresh and poetic. She accomplishes this with aplomb in many of her poems like "Oxbow" (21), "Wheat Ears"(48) and "Dragging the River" (59). In her poem "The Cure," Erdrich writes:

She is a dreaming woman
Rocking this island like a lover, running her tongue along the shore. Who couldn't resist her? Who wouldn't submit
To the arms and the lips of the sea?

I feel at home in her poems. Perhaps it is because I too grew up on a border and am familiar with thinking that across the river is the "Minnesota side" as she writes in "Dragging the River. " Another piece of Erdrich's that is passionate and evocative for me is "Sex in the Desert," (41). "My blood goes crazy for the sound of wet on dry / I huff, I snort, I run through the courtyard yelling. " Having lived in the desert, I relate to her description of big plopping raindrops that steam up and make you feel like you're crazy in-love with something, anything, everything. However, I don't think that you have to have lived in the desert to understand Erdrich's compelling relationship to the places that have influenced her poems. Whether it is the desert or "The Red River of the North" (19) Erdrich's landscapes and the creatures that inhabit them are fresh, yet familiar.

Erdrich is an erudite native woman poet. She combines the crafts of rhyme, lyric and meter woven together with narratives that take shape and begin to have a life of their own. Erdrich's poems often seem like songs or prayers to herself, her family and her land. In her poems, Erdrich comes from and toward her experiences as a native person and as a woman. For Erdrich, these parts of her being are not separate, but are intertwined in her being just as her rich relationship with her family. These facets of her life add complexities to this body of work. One can see how she threads the love of poetry with her various identities to create the notion that we are all "fishing for myth. "

In her work "Origin of a Poem," Erdrich writes, "We fish our own waters / green and layered / weedy and warm- / Nothing rises, / no ripples, but we wait. / All we want is the tug-something deep, alive, on the line. " (14) This poem, like many that I mention above, seems like the beginning of secrets she isn't finished telling us yet. She writes of discovering the many layers that exist in the creative process. From her words one gets the impression that you never know how this process will end. Fishing for Myth is and always will be an ongoing adventure.