Tongue Over Teakettle, or, the Pleasures of Surprises in Poetry

I’m reading Stephen Burt’s The Poem Is You, and found myself intrigued and delighted by this poem, whose author was unknown to me: Diane Glancy’s “Hamatawk.”



Just it was (crow tongued) he was saying a caw.
Then wings fold up the Indian
if antlers deer give
totems of the head the anyhow of them.
This coat gets smaller each year
like the tepee I come from
when I (back) to the (space) I was born,
the small hohum of it,
old ones all reversed
smaller the autumn trees than I remember
(the way) old language breaks.
Hum way to hum hum the buzzled wiggle
of the tall grasses smoothed down
by the path of them (to woods) through the field.
I’m going and if not
I come back smaller.
Then he (the crow) sings like this
his mouth he opens. Caw. Caw. The grasses
(wave) they take flight the crow wings (grasses
burnt) all fields shrivel
next the new world.

There are so many surprises and little winks and nudge, and yet sadness and rue.

From the start: backwardization of the title, tomahawk to hamatawk, the wink at talk and the undermining of that tired symbol from our cowboys-and-indians mythology. I

love the various uses of parentheses to describe or circumscribe or clarify, the creation of a “back space,” the questioning of “the way.”

I love the tangled syntaxes and then the flat statement “This coat gets smaller each year…” and the hohum hum hum and caws.

I love when someone else’s work makes me stop in my tracks and say, wow, how did she do that — and how can it inform my work? “Then wings fold up the Indian” and “if antlers deer give/totems of the head the anyhow of them” and “The grasses/(wave) they take flight the crow wings” really interest me in how they make you slow down, consider and reconsider what is doing what and how and why, and the wonder and space of that wonder.

This poem was published in 1991, and Glancy has continued to publish in both poetry and fiction, as well as plays. I look forward to seeing what else her mind has conjured.




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