By Joanna Shawana
Reviewed by Jorge Antonio Vallejos
Voice of and Eagle by Joanna Shawana soars high. The Anishnawbe poet brings truth and humility to every page having the reader feel like they are sitting with a friend as opposed to several sheets of paper glued together. The reader goes through the emotions of empathy, understanding, and amazement at how much Shawana reveals of herself. Strength and vulnerability is the voice of this Eagle Clan member who authored Voice of an Eagle.
The title poem, Voice of an Eagle, begins the collection. The reader starts off flying high seeing the people below as the eagle sings “a song of their sorrows, a song of their happiness.” The eagle’s songs are teaching the people “that they can also sing from their hearts, sing as they walk Mother Earth.” And this is what Shawana does throughout her collection.
In Walk In My Moccasins Shawana shows her growth as a person through her Anishinawbe spirituality. Rather than dare people to walk in her shoes, Shawana invites folk to walk in her moccasins. “Take a walk with me” starts off the poem of redemption via forgiveness. The poet recounts the pain that once imprisoned her and the ability to let go that has freed her:
“After you have taken a walk
In my moccasins
I ask you
To let go of the sorrow
That you might have felt
Because today, I know
I would have done it differently.”
Shawana shows the importance of giving thanks for all she has in I Offer. Laying tobacco down at sunrise everyday Shawana says, “Mii-gwetch”, (thank you) for all she has and all that surrounds her. Repetition is used throughout the poem emphasizing her grateful nature and demonstrating technique and style.
I Offer reveals Shawana’s cleverness in her way of providing translation within the poem as opposed to offering a footnote at the end. Writing “I give thanks” once in the early stages of the poem, “I say, Mii-gwetch” starts off the rest of the stanzas. Shawana gives thanks for gifts many people often overlook:
Shawana not only gives thanks for Mother Earth she dedicates a poem of thanks to all her Elders and teachers who’ve helped her on her healing path. Inspiration tells of the inspiration Shawana has felt after each teaching from different mentors. With so many people to name, and not wanting anyone to feel forgotten, Shawana addresses them all with “Each of you”:
“Each of you
Had shown me bravery
Had taught me how to express my most
Through all these inspirations
Now I have found the strength, the will
To build a new formation as I travel on
Voice of an Eagle is not just about spirituality and healing. Shawana expresses her wants and needs as a human being, as a woman. Her poem Dreams is not about a vision or a teaching, it’s about her dreams for a man and intimate moments with that man. Shawana is not only truthful about her past, she shares her dreams of the future while showing her erotic side. Using repetition Shawana tells of her wants for a man’s touch and taste and affection. She ends with: “Dreams of burning desire within ready to explode”.
Many poems in Voice of an Eagle are dedicated to family: My Dear Brother, My Daughter Tracy, My Son, My Grandson Keegan, In Memory of Country Boy, Mother. Shawana’s poem for her daughter, Joni, uses a cool technique not seen often. In the middle of the poem Shawana starts different stanzas with each letter of her daughters name: J, O, N, I. Every poem for a relative shows the reader who this relative is and the special relationship and affection Shawana has with each of them.
More than a collection of poems Shawana includes teachings of her people, her tribe, her nation–the Anishinawbe, throughout the book. Naming Ceremony and Teachings of the Ojibway are teachings on paper. Great Spirit is a prayer. The Change Within is a journal entry that shares Shawana’s growth as an Anishinawbe-Kwe—Anishinawbe Woman.
Voice of an Eagle has much to offer. The only fault the book has is that there are no page numbers and no table of contents. Reviewing this book saw much flipping of pages to return to poems that were to be explored.
If you are looking to learn about Anishinawbe people, enjoy Native art, and like to read poems of empowerment, pick up Joanna Shawana’s Voice of an Eagle and fly with her on her spiritual high.
Tune into Black Coffee Poet Wednesday June 8, 2011 for an inclusive interview with Joanna Shawana.