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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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1. Native Voices   

1. Native Voices

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Simon J. Ortiz - Author Questions

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  1. Comprehension: What is "the building" in "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH"? To which "three American wars" does the narrator probably refer?

  2. Comprehension: The narrator of "My Mother and My Sisters" says that his mother paints "with movements whose origin has only to do with years of knowing." What does this description mean?

  3. Comprehension: What is the relationship between the building and the geese in "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH"? What does Ortiz seem to be saying by including them both in one brief poem?

  4. Context: The VA Hospital in Albuquerque is located on over 500 acres on a high mesa and is designed in a village layout in Spanish-Pueblo architectural style.What is the significance of the architecture of the hospital in Ortiz's poem? What difference would it have made if the building were built in a style that imitated a pueblo or a kiva, the traditional site of Pueblo healing?

  5. Context: "My Mother and My Sisters" includes two segments, the narrator's description of his mother and sister making pottery, and his mother telling the story of looking for pinons. What do these two segments have in common, or how do they illuminate each other? Consider the relationship between pottery-making and story-telling as art forms: how do they both involve the expression and transmission of cultural values and assumptions?

  6. Context: Examine the jars from Acoma and Santo Domingo Pueblos featured in the "Singing Mothers" Web Archive in this unit. Describe the shape of the jars. What potential uses might they have had? How has the potter used shape and geometry to create a sense of balance and rhythm? Compare the harmony-seeking principles in the pottery to those in Ortiz's poems.

  7. Exploration: Poetry often invokes the five senses in order to make its message more vivid and immediate. There are two senses at work in "8:50 AM Ft. Lyons VAH": the Wisconsin horse's sighting of the geese and the sound the geese make. What is the relationship between sound and sight in the poem? What does the persona reflect on when he hears, and what does he reflect on when he sees? Which is more "healing"? Compare Ortiz's use of sensory impressions to that of other contemporary poets such as Li-Young Lee and Sylvia Plath.

  8. Exploration: Poetry is often addressed to an audience—a "you." The second, brief stanza of "My Mother and My Sisters" is written in the second person—that is, it is addressed to some "you." Who is this audience? What is the relationship between the reader and the narrator as a result of this pronoun? How does the second stanza affect your understanding of the poem? How does its inclusion support Ortiz's claim that poetry is a "dialogue" or "conversation"? You might contrast Ortiz's use of the pronoun "you" to that of other poets in such poems as "Daddy" by Sylvia Plath and "Black Art" by Amiri Baraka.

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