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General Introduction

The idea for the Oregon Literature Series, six anthologies of the best Oregon writing, was first proposed to the Oregon Council of Teachers of English (OCTE) in 1988. At that time, OCTE decided to depart from the conventional state literary anthology--a monolithic tome put together by a few academic volunteers and generally intended for libraries and adult readers. Instead, OCTE decided to create six shorter, genre-based anthologies: prose, poetry, autobiography, folk literature, letters and diaries, and short fiction. OCTE would publish a public "Call for Editors," and the most qualified individuals would be hired for their expertise and treated professionally-honoraria, expenses, research assistance, travel, etc. The anthologies would be intended as classroom/reference texts for students and teachers, and as introductory readers for the general public. Books would be designed to be easily held, carried, and read.

Numerous arguments were raised against this innovative proposal--most of them signaling Oregon's 150-year status as a literary colony. No one had ever done this before. Oregon's literature was non-existent. There wasn't much writing of merit. Most scholars and critics have ignored Oregon literature--even in the best histories of Western literature. There's no literary history of Oregon. It will take years to find this work. In Oregon, literature has the least financial support of all the major arts. We had no publisher. It might rain.

Nevertheless, in 1989, Ulrich Hardt and I were appointed by OCTE to complete the Oregon Literature Series. The work began when we signed a publication contract with Oregon State University Press, our first and most important professional collaborator. Next, from a pool of 139 applicants, OCTE chose these editors to discover Oregon's literary heritage: Shannon Applegate, Stephen Dow Beckham, Gordon B. Dodds, Primus St. John, Suzi Jones, Glen A. Love, Terence O Donnell, Jarold Ramsey, and Ingrid Wendt. Appointed in August 1990, those individuals began the search for Oregon writing that eventually spread beyond every corner of the state--from ranch houses to university archives, from oral storytellers in Longhouses to Chinese Miners' letters in museums, from Desdemona Sands to Burns. Some editors traveled thousands of miles. Others corresponded with hundreds of authors. Most read thousands of pages. Poets, historians, folklorists, critics, scholars, teachers, and editors--they all benefited from and shared their research expertise. Even though honoraria were small, editors gave generously of their time. While the editors looked for Oregon writing, Ulrich Hardt and I sought out and received endorsements from many major cultural and arts organizations. Financial support was like rain in the time of drought, but we attracted a few wise, faithful, and generous patrons, as the Acknowledgements record.

Once the editors had discovered this vast, unstudied, and unknown body of writings, they assembled their manuscripts by using the following guidelines--guidelines that required them to choose writing--in its broadest sense--that might reveal the Oregon experience to both students and the public:

  1. The volume must include a representative sample of the best Oregon writing from all periods, regions, occupations, genders, genres and sub-genres, ethnic, religious, political, and cultural backgrounds.
  2. Oregon birth should not be used as a single criterion for inclusion. Oregon residence is important, but no arbitrary length of stay is required for a writer to be included.
  3. Works about experience in Oregon are preferred, but editors are not limited to that criterion alone.
  4. "Oregon" will be defined by its changing historical boundaries--Native American tribal territories, Spanish, Russian, British, U.S. Territory, statehood.
  5. One or more translations and original from non-English languages should be included when appropriate to show that linguistic multiplicity has always been a part of Oregon.
  6. Controversial subjects such as sexism and racism should not be avoided. Multiple versions of events, people, and places should be included when available.
  7. Length of works must vary; limit the number of snippets when possible. Meet the need of diversity in reading, from complex to simple.
  8. New, unknown, or unpublished work should be included.
  9. Works will be edited for clarity but not necessarily for correctness. Editors may invent titles, delete text, and select text as appropriate and with appropriate notation.

Once assembled in draft, most of these manuscripts were two to three times longer than could be published by Oregon State University Press; therefore much fine writing had to be omitted, which all editors and our publisher regret. After being reduced to the requisite size, the manuscripts passed through two separate reviews: first, a different Advisor Board for each volume read and rated all selections; second, the Editorial Board composed of all fellow editors of the Oregon Literature Series read, responded, and eventually voted to adopt the manuscript for publication. At all stages, both ulrich Hardt and I worked closely with editors in may ways: readers, critics, fundraisers, administrators, arbitrators, secretaries, grant writers, researchers, coordinators, pollsters.

Now, we hope that these books will create for Oregon literature a legitimate place in oregon schools and communities, where the best texts that celebrate, invent, evaluate, and illuminate the Oregon condition have been invisible for too long. Here, for the first time, students will have books that actually include writing by Oregonians; and peoples in the state; librarians will be able to recommend the best reading to their patrons; the new reader and the general reader can find answers to the question that has haunted this project like a colonial ghost "Who are Oregon's writers, anyway?"

Let it be known that an Oregon literary canon is forming--rich, diverse, compelling. Here we give this sample of it to you. Let your love of reading and wiring endure.

George Venn, General Editor
   Grand Rhonde Valley, Oregon, September 1992


Introduction to Parts I-IV

This state called Oregon always has been, and promises always to be, a place of celebrated beginnings. Long before Lewis and Clark sent back reports from this far corner of the United States, over forty different tribal nations (with more than twenty-five language groups) proclaimed this land as the center of the world. For hundreds of years, these first Oregonians had been maintaining a rich oral tradition of myths and legends, songs and invocations, that celebrated the origins of all of earth's creatures and taught how to live in harmony with the land in its endless cycles of rebirth and renewal.

For the mostly Euro-American settlers of Oregon, this land between the Pacific Ocean and the Snake River, between the Columbia River and the Siskiyou Mountains, represented a beginning, not of the world, but of a new way of life. Poetry about the westward expansion echoes with a heightened sense of what has gone into making up the characteristically American psyche. Out here, somewhere, was Paradise, waiting to be found and owned. Possibilities here seemed as endless as the belief in endless resources, or the desire to leave back East a host of social and personal ills.

From Here We Speak is an attempt to provide a historically arranged sampling of poetry from the earliest transcriptions of tribal lyrics, through successive generations of pioneers and their descendants, into the present day. "The frontiers," said Thoreau, "are not east or west, north or south, but wherever a man [or woman] fronts a fact."1 With this idea in mind, we can see that the poetry of the state of Oregon is not merely a record of historical and geographical images, but also of changes, over time, in our social condition, and of the many kinds of frontiers there have been. From the Nez Perce "Morning Song" of thanks for being alive yet another day, through Ursula Le Guin's sombre association of the eruption of Mount St. Helens with a potential nuclear winter, we see in Oregon poetry a tremendous range of responses to ever-changing circumstances, compressed into a span of little more than one hundred and fifty years.

With literally thousands of poems, by scores of poets, to choose from (apart from the tribal materials, of which little is to be found), The principles guiding selections were several. First priority went, always, to poems of quality: poems judged excellent by standards of their time; poems which are still valuable today. Next came a whole range of questions. How was the poet regarded by audiences of the day? Was there a balance of subject and style? and was the subject representative of an important social or historical reality? (Part II has, for example, one shipwreck poem, one poem about farming, one covered wagon poem and so on.) How important was length of residence in Oregon, when other compelling facts came into play? (Edwin Markham left the state at age 6, but he was later named Oregon's Poet Laureate. Mary Barnard has lived most of her life in Vancouver, Washington; but Reed College, in Portland, was where she launched her writing career.) There were issues of balance: of gender, age group, profession, religion, as well as of geographic region. Attempts were also made at ethnic representation. (History tells us that Hispanics, Asians, african Americans, and other minority groups were present in early Oregon, but, unfortunately, little poetry could be found to demonstrate this fact.)

Throughout my search for poems representative of important aspects of Oregon society and of the time in which the poems were written, I was making another search: for poems unlike the "typical" verse of the day. Were there any rebels or risk takers? Who were the (deliberate or accidental) mavericks of each literary period who moved that period forward, and who continue to surprise and delight us? While searching for poems that showed an awareness of the world outside the boundaries of the state> Happily, my search was more than amply rewarded. Sadly, many worthy poems, by such notable poets as O.C. Applegate, Senator Edwin Baker, and Governor George Curry, as Well as poems on important topics like the Civil and the spanish-American wars, had to be left out for reasons of space.

Most challenging of all my editorial goals was the search for representative Native American oral literature, nearly all of which was lost along with the lives of most indigenous people in the second half of the last century. Thanks to the efforts, however, of several nineteenth- and early twentieth-century anthropologists, with the tremendous help of a few remaining native speakers, we are able to read a sampling of the lyrics of at least eleven different tribal groups, collected from widely scattered enthnographic texts. Thanks to devoted scholars living today, we are able to read re-translations that give us a sense of the dignity and artistry involved in the original creations.

After the challenges of search and selection there was the added challenge of how to present oral literature on the printed page. None of the lyrics and songs in Part I was ever intended to be written down and used outside its original ceremonial setting. Nor was any piece meant to be read and evaluated according to contemporary "literary" standards. The ways in which tribal lyrics were spoken or sung profoundly affected their meanings. How could this book reproduce the dancing that often went with the words? How could printed words capture the beat of the drum or the sounds of other musical instruments, played while the words were once being sung? Furthermore, how could merely printed texts convey the complexities in seemingly simple phrases? Just as the words "burning bush" bring a whole complex story to mind for people raised in the Judeo-Christian tradition, so, too, many words in Native American lyrics have stories behind them. Readers are familiar with these stories might think the lyrics are simpler than they really are. As Scholar and translator Brian Swann explains, Native songs were almost always short because the people already knew "so much."2 Readers today do not know what the original audiences knew.

Some of the songs in Part I are secular. The Kalapuya game song and the Klamath songs of satire and social comment were intended to entertain and to encourage correct behavior. The Modoc lullaby and the Coos love song were meant to communicate personal feelings. Most of the songs, however, were sacred. The songs of prophecy and of healing, the songs to make things happen, the incantations, the exorcisms and spirit power songs were parts of religious ceremonies. Their words were often splenetically given, in dreams or visions. some, like the spirit-power sons, were personal property, to be shared with the group only on rare ceremonial occasions. Others, such as "When It Storms in Winter," were community property, to be passed along through generations, without giving credit to the original authors. Every song was a way for the singer to participate in something bigger than the self--to enter into an "intimate connection between right acting and right singing.3

Although it is risky to take sacred songs out of context, the importance of sharing some of this wonderfully rich oral literature makes the risk worth taking. Many of the tribal lyrics are referred to as songs, because they usually were sung or chanted, rather than spoken. Various words were often repeated like refrains. Still other lyrics are rearrangements of prose narratives--myths, for example, or legends--that originally did not look like poems at all, but have recently been seen as such by Professor Dell Hymen and other scholars working tin the exciting new field of ethnopoetics. By breaking the old prose paragraphs into poetic lines. Hymes and other writers are allowing today's readers to see the organizing principles in such traditional narratives as "A Tualatin Shaman Named Cimxin," and to appreciate their stylistic sophistication.

Some lyrics are printed both in English and in their own original language. Some presentations let the reader compare modern versions with the first translations made by early anthropologists. Some lyrics appear in more than one modern translation. Still other translations (or verse adaptations) do not follow original texts word for word but fill in or add phrases and images, making up for the unspoken contexts in which the songs first appeared. To emphasize that they are truly "translations," these pieces have been grouped together at the end of Part I.

Except for this first section (where all lyrics were part of the oral tradition, with few authors or fixed dates available, the poems in Parts I-IV are arranged chronologically, by authors' dates of birth. In addition to providing a practical form of organization, this method allows readers to see some striking differences, as well as the expected similarities, among poets of roughly the same age. It also permits grouping the poems into three main stylistic and thematic sections. "Tales Half Told: Early Oregon Poems" contains poems written mainly between 1838 and 1900. Leaving the Myths: Poems in Transition" presents poems that appeared roughly between 1900 and 1940, paving the way for the generations of poets included in Part IV, "Pioneers on Aesthetics: Early Oregon Modernists."

The first recorded Oregon poem, by missionary Anna Maria Pittman Lee, was written in 1838. It illustrates one of several somewhat two-dimensional (or "Half Told") modes of early Oregon poems--modes that changed very little until around the turn of the century. Literary historian Hervert Nelson has identified four main kinds of poetry written during this time, and Part II includes representative sampling of each kind: 1) lyrics lauding Oregon ("Beautiful Willamette," for example); 2) romantic tales in verse (melancholy death in battle, tales of ship-wrecks or other kinds of disasters), often with a moral attached; 3) sentimental lyrics on such topics as love, death, friendship, religious belief, and homes left behind; and 4) topical verse on such "questions of the day" as temperance, or on significant current events.4

Much of this poetry came to public attention through pioneer newspapers and journals of the mid to late 1800s, as well as through the publication of books by single authors. Much of it, in keeping with literary fashions of the day, was full of learned and even classical allusions. Considered a sign of intellectual accomplishment and refinement, writing poetry was an amazingly popular activity in the 1800s, and newspaper and magazine editors published poetry not only as filler material but as proof of their own sophistication.

Yet early Oregon poets led lives that, for the most part, were far from "literary": lives of teaching or householding, farming or sailing, lives spent converting the Indians, or in garrisoning forts to protect the settlers from Indian attacks. Perhaps, we might speculate, writing poetry was one way of "fronting" the facts of a wilderness almost too large to comprehend. Perhaps it was a way to deal with the many kinds of losses almost all pioneers faced, or of making something permanent and noble in the face of so much change. The anonymous "To the Oregon Emigrants of 1846," Frances Fuller Victor's "Do You Hear the Women Praying?", and much of the other early poetry had an overt message. Like pioneer quilts which were beautiful and also kept one warm, early Oregon poems were meant to be of use: to encourage, to persuade, to immortalize, and (like "Ace Carey and the Bear") to entertain.

By today's standards much of the language of these early poems seems stilted and two dimensional. It seems to lack the specific details that might distinguish the Willamette, for example, from any other river on the continent. Today's readers might also find the language somewhat flowery--even overdone. Yet we can sympathize with these early settlers in their struggles to describe a new and overwhelming landscape--trying to describe wonders the eye could hardly believe. They may have felt such wonders could never be captured in the language of everyday use. Wouldn't a loftier language be called for--something grand enough to equal the grandeur of nature?

We can also see, as in "The Oregon Framer's Song," how fronting the fact of a new landscape often meant recreating (as Hildegarde Flanner says) "little by little, the exterior world in the image of old truths and convictions" brought from the East.5 How could the land not always be here for the taking? Shouldn't everyone get a piece of the pie? Won't honest hard work bring eternal success? Why introduce a new way of looking at things?

With most poets voicing the popular and "expected" sentiments of the day, there were also poets of protest. There were voices questioning, as well as upholding, the status quo. Poet Elizabeth Markham, for example, demonstrated an early feminist awareness long before the suffrage movement provided a support network. Poets Margaret Jewett Bailey and Robert Starkey protested the treatment of Indians by the Whites, at a time when the generally accepted thing to do was to convert Indians to Christianity, along with taking their lands. Poet Joaquin Miller, whose poetry often glorified pioneer life, began to see that some of the old stories really were secular "myths" settlers thought they could live by. Some of these "myths" were beginning to fail. Maybe these stories were only "half told." The two poems of Miller included here were chosen because they do not fit the mold of convention. Rather, they are forecasters of the change that was to occur in Oregon poetry, as it did elsewhere around the United States, at the turn of the century.

Part III, "Leaving the Myths: Poems in Transition," contains many poems that illustrate this change. despite the persistent Romanticism of such popular poets as Valentine Brown, for the first time in the history of Oregon poetry we see a substantial number of poets challenging the dominant social value of conquest and exploitation (both of the environment and the native people in it). More three dimensional, almost defiant in tone, these poems begin to present the realities of human experience in all of its forms, even if that means exposing the crude or unpleasant.

Beginning with "The Old Emigrant Road," which puts the "romance" of the wagon train firmly in the past, the poems in this section "front" new kinds of facts. They show that wandering and rootlessness sometimes lead to despair. Ada Hastings Hedges, for example, speaks for those Oregon-born pioneers from the crowded western valleys who headed back across the mountains, to the "promised lands" of the desert, and the toll this took on their lives. Poets such as C.E.S. Wood, John Reed, Charles Oluf Olsen, Edwin Markham, Haralambos Kambouris, and the Japanese immigrants of Hood River, all refuse to echo the comfortable, capitalist myth of the "happy, humble worker," presenting, instead, working class realities in a clear light. New, too, are the challenges made by Wood and Mary Carolyn Davies to the taken-for-granted glories of war and the taken-for-granted institution of marriage. Women's voices, especially those of Ada Hastings Hedges, Mary Carolyn Davies, Hazel Hall, and Frances Holmstrom, are among the first to present alternative visions of human connection and continuity rooted in traditionally female values.

The literary period of 1900-1930 brought other kinds of changes. For the first time in Oregon literature, we see a substantial number of authors who regarded poetry as more than an avocation: it was a calling, a career. Growing numbers of Oregon poets were winning prestigious national awards. And it became possible for a few poets of the time to earn a living by writing, especially when hey published in such nationally popular magazines as the Saturday Evening Post, and filled in the income from poetry with other kings of journalism.

More significantly, the period represented in Part III was the beginning of a kind of "literary Renaissance" that was to come to full bloom in the 1930s. During this period of intense activity (mostly in the Willamette Valley), writers often came together, both socially and professionally, to work on publishing projects, to establish new literary journals, and to debate aesthetics. Poets debated the distinction between popular "verse" and "poetry" as an artform, knowing full well that what "sells" is not always what's "good" and they began to redefine and to set new literary standards for themselves as Northwesterners.

Change comes slowly, and not all poets of this or later periods were equally affected by the New Realism. Nor were many poets yet able to write convincingly of the Oregon landscape. "I wonder, Ethel Fuller," Ben Hur Lampman is known to have said, " who among us will be the one to do justice to our own out-of-doors." Fuller's reply: "Probably no one of the present generation of poets; we are still too busy climbing our mountains and exploring our hinterlands; we are too close to our natural marvels for a 'subliminal' perspective."6 Whatever the reason, it isn't until the work of such poets as Paul Tracy, H.L. Davis, Howard mcKinley Corning, Jeanne McGahey, Mary Barnard, and others in Part IV that we begin to see the Oregon landscape in all its uniqueness.

This section, titled "Pioneers on Aesthetics," after one of Paul Tracy's poems, to artistic change and individuality of style. These poets continue the trend set by writers of everyday speech and with abstract, flowery language in favor of the vernacular. Poets of Part IV carry forward, as Karen Reyes has said, "a new awareness of contemporary events, realistically treated, and written in language more reflective of the speech patterns of American English."7 Or, as poet Paul Tracy asserts, "You poets keep singing of smoothness/And the beautiful cadence of living: . . .Life to me is a series of yanks and jerks."

Is it possible to characterize and label the types of poetry written by the great number of poets in Part IV, many of whom are still living and writing today? Or is it possible that what begins to emerge.is a tremendous variety of visions, resulting (in part) from as increased mobility among poets? In this section we see poets moving into and out of the state (and the country), poets studying their craft at colleges and universities, and poets teaching in academia. We see poets whose occupations range from forest lookout to lumberjack, from blacksmith to strawberry picker, from homemaker to plumber. We see these modern poets as inheriting the comforts won by earlier Oregon settlers, yet being sobered by the Great Depression of the '30s and by two world wars. Some poets fought in those wars; others resisted on grounds of conscience. What, if anything (besides chronology), brings the work of these poets together? Is there anything about the body of Oregon poetry of this time which distinguishes it from that written in other regions of the country?

Pioneers not only "on aesthetics," modern Oregon poets possess a new alertness to the places where they have chosen to live. Whether speaking of specifically human concerns, or of the environment, most poets in Part IV use a variety of images, references, allusions, and figures of speech that show that the land is never far from mind. In the poems of H.L. Davis and Clara Hoff, of James Stevens and Courtland matthews, of Jeanne McGahey and Madeline DeFrees, of William Stafford and Willis Eberman, of Vi Gale and John Haislip, of Beverly Partridge and Gary Snyder, among others in this section, we see a loyalty and an attentiveness to the land--to our human connection with it. If anything about the body of Oregon poetry distinguishes it from that of other regions of the country, perhaps we can see it in the ways the poets in Part IV assert their connection to the land, and in how they reject, as George Venn has said, society's obsession with an exclusively human world.8

Many poets in Part IV not only observe and describe their connection to the natural world. They also explore ways to live in harmony with that environment. Their poems ask: How are we at home here? Their answers are as different from each other as the poets themselves, yet their mutual quest foreshadows the words of poet John Daniel, in his recent book The Trial Home: "It is not a matter of owning the land, or of working the land, but of learning to hold the land in mind, to begin gropingly. . . to imagine ourselves as port of it." "Home," says Daniel, "is not the place we were born, or that perfect somewhere else we used to dream of, but the place where we are--the place . . . we learn to see and listen for and come to know as part of our lives."9

Poems in Part IV also ask: How do we heal the wounds--to society and to the environment--that have been made in getting us where ware are? They suggest that the very qualities which have made America strong have also had negative counterparts. Whether the American quest has been for personal freedom or for wealth, for beauty or for power, perhaps the American emphases on competition, on conquest and on control have created a society which is out of balance, a society which throws the world out of balance. Our ability to survive as a planet is called into question. Inheriting countless problems along with the fruits of their ancestors' labors, left with no unifying vision or shared mythology to bind them, the poets in Part IV are beginning to make concrete the fact the world, as they know it, will not last forever unless we learn how to become better custodians for future generations. "The earth is ours to destroy/or love once again," says Willis Eberman, in his poem "Elk." We must decide very soon which it will be.

Perhaps, with all of the north American continent charted, with most of the wilderness tamed, the pioneer sense of "rugged individualism" has become a fronting of new social realities and a reexamination of the myths that have driven our society. Poets such as Lawrence Pratt and Verne Bright, Mary Barnard, and Willis Eberman, hint at "endings" to some of those "beginnings" described by poets a hundred years before. Poets such as William Everson, Phyllis McGinley, Ralph Salisbury, James B. Hall, Shizue Iwatsuki, and Ursula Le Guin explode the myths of the glamours of war and of nature's upheavals. They, and other poets in part IV, bring us personal accounts that show how individuals, with their individual human lives, are affected by events that otherwise could be too big and impersonal to comprehend.

Alone sometimes in their perceptions, as artists often must be, the poets in Part IV continue the pioneer quest--but this time for meaning, and for new ways to imagine themselves active participants in the global community. Determined to see and to speak clearly, these regional poets at the end of the trail come together in their search for ways to connect "right action and right singing." In the words of William Stafford:

They Call it regional, this relevance--
the deepest place we have: in this pool forms
the model of our land, a lonely one,
responsive to the wind. Everything we own
has brought us here: from here we speak.10
                                             Ingrid Wendt
                                             Eugene, Oregon, September 1992

  1. This quotation was used as the epigraph on the title page of all issues of H.G. Merriam's literary journal The FrontierMissoula, Montana, 1920-1939).
  2. Brian Swann, Song of the Sky: Versions of Native American Songs and Poems (Ashuelot, New Hampshire: Four Zoas Night House, Ltd., 1985), pg 6.
  3. Swann, Ibid., p. 2.
  4. Herbert Nelson, The Literary Impulse in Pioneer OregonCorvallis, Oregon: Oregon State College Press, 1948), pp 70-76.
  5. Hildegarde Flanner, "A California Problem," The Saturday Review of Literature, May 24, 1930.
  6. Ethel Romig Fuller, "Who and How Good Are the Poets? the Sunday Oregonian (November 19, 1933), Mag. p.3.
  7. Karen Reyes, Finding a New Voice: The Oregon Writing Community Between the World Wars Portland, Oregon: Portland State University Master's Thesis, 1986), p. 41.
  8. George Venn, "Continuity in Northwest Literature," Marking the Magic Circle (Corvallis, Oregon: Oregon State University Press, 1987), pp. 84-109.
  9. John Daniel, "The Trail Home," The Trail Home (New York: Pantheon, 1992) pp. 203-213.
  10. William Stafford, "Lake Chelan." Stories That Could Be True (New York: Harper & Row, Publishers, 1977), p. 84.
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