Native American Poet Visits Exeter
April 13, 2012
The "sheet of paper is freedom," said Henry Real Bird, 2009–2011 Poet Laureate of Montana, to preps in English 130. "The first line is free . . . the art is controlling after that."
Interspersing his poems with song and words from the Crow language, the cowboy poet and educator, born and raised on the Crow Indian Reservation, spoke about his experiences as a Native American and a writer.
A man with tremendous vitality, his life and poetry have taken him on unusual paths. In 2010, Real Bird traveled 500 miles on horseback across northwest North Dakota and northern Montana, handing out books of poetry along the way.
In English class, Real Bird focused on how he writes poetry. He often uses symbols (triangles and circles) to help develop end-of-line rhymes, instead of the traditional A-B-A-B notation. He has a notepad with him at all times. "Whenever a thought comes to you, do it right there," he advised the students, who have recently embarked on a poetry-writing assignment.
Real Bird encouraged the preps to write about sensory experiences, and drew pictograms to help explain how he integrates the 5 senses into his work. He described one early morning when he observed a dragonfly caught in the dew. He watched for a long time as the sun came up, drying the dew, and the dragonfly was finally able to fly off – both literally and into one of his poems.
"Life is from the water, ground and wind," Real Bird's grandfather told him as a boy. "Thought is from the shadow of a flame."
Near the end of class, Real Bird advised students, "use the least words to say the most."
During his Exeter visit, Real Bird also gave a public reading of his poems in the Academy Library.
Real Bird has published 5 poetry collections: Horse Tracks, Where Shadows Are Born, Beyond Reflection, Reflections and Shadow, and Best of Hank Real Bird. His poems have appeared in several anthologies.
Interested in learning more?
Listen to NPR's interview with the author . . .
— Nicole Pellaton