Combing the Snakes from His Hair (American Indian Studies) (Paperback)
Michigan State University Press, 9780870135903, 143pp.
Publication Date: March 31, 2002
The title, Combing the Snakes from His Hair, alludes to an Iroquois story of healing. Atatarho, the Onondaga leader, had a crooked body and a head covered with snakes. In order to achieve peace, Atatarho had to be healed: his mind straightened, his body straightened, the snakes combed from his hair. Similarly, during the writing of these poems, Stevens experienced a healing, a setting straight of his life and a setting straight of the record.
The collection, written between 1993 and 1999, is comprised of five sections. The opening section, written as a way to explore new natural surroundings, is accompanied by the author's drawings of prairie flora. The second section is a series of love poems. The third section examines the relationship between European music and Native American music and observes that both should be viewed equally as expressive of each culture. And the fourth section consists of short poems—translations, if you will—of Iroquois stories and songs.
The final section consists of a long poem studying the effects of colonization coupled with an emotional contemplation of nature and one's place within it. It is concerned with language—who controls it, who possesses it, and how it is used by the colonizer to erase indigenous cultures.
About the Author
James Thomas Stevens is a member of the Akwesasne Mohawk Tribe. James briefly attended the School of Visual Arts in New York City and Brooklyn College. He finished his undergraduate schooling at the Institute of American Indian Arts, with an AFA in Creative Writing. While attending IAIA, he was awarded the Gerald Red Elk Scholarship to attend the Naropa Institute Summer Writing Program and studied under, Anne Waldman, Allen Ginsberg, Gary Snyder, and Anselm Hollo. Upon graduating in 1990, James was given a full fellowship to attend the Brown University Graduate Writing Program. In the fall of 1993, his first manuscript, Tokinish, was published.His second work, Notes on the Music I Never Heard, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize in 1996. James has published in many journals including Blue Mesa Review, Mandorla, First Intensity, Tan Tien (China), The Alembic, Exit Zero, and Arts Advocate Magazine of New Mexico.
James has been an Instructor of Poetry at Brown University and has worked with the anti-drug program, Wateauonk, at the Narragansett Community House (1991). James taught at Haskell Indian Nations University and currently teaches in the English Department at the State University of New York at Fredonia.