The Angriest Indian Poet award goes to… Adrian Louis (Lovelock Paiute Tribe) a writer who goes with the flow of an insane world, he bends but won’t break, ever.
Some people wonder how he’s still alive in the modern age, naked at midnight, sober in front of his computer Facebooking. They declare we all need to read him to find out how it’s still being done, here in the 21st century. Some writers may think they are the reincarnation of Hunter S. Thompson or Charles Bukowski, but in Adrian Louis we have some of both personas melded into a “half-breed Indian” poet who ranges from Minnesota across the Great Plains to the Nevada desert.
It’s no wonder many Native poets consider him a personal hero. He is a professor of poetry that on occasion will punch you in the face just to make sure you’re paying attention, because a hard lesson is coming up and you’re going to need to get your adrenaline pumping.
The terrible part is the struggles of his Indians fighting off soldiers, zombies and vampires, but those moments can be immediately followed by revelation or rejuvenation. The beauty is in bringing us wonderful, exciting human moments, including ghosts of loved ones. Maybe it’s just plain orneriness, like hell we been here before, don’t sweat it.
America is harvesting itself
& the humid air is clotted
with corn & soy dust.
White boys, whose scared
& supple scrotums
are filled with helium,
squeal tires in perfect
orbits of the mini-mall.
Jealous & confused, I shoot
a deer, slit open its stomach
& crawl into its steaming guts.
Later, when the town quiets,
I slither out of the dying
warmth & wetness, force
a smile & ignite a Marlboro.
Born again into starry night,
I am still & decrepit still.
Gathered onlookers shrug.
Some toss small coins, but
most tiptoe quickly toward
their cars, fearing a wildness,
a darkness they cannot colonize.
I had a chance to interview Louis for ICMN.
You have won some big poetry prizes in competition with all American writers and poets. Native writers consider you a hero, one who stands his ground. The cover of your new book “Random Exorcisms” is so that hero, an Indian shaman/warrior astride a huge coyote beseeching Creator for power or guidance. Why do we react like this to your writing?
I’m not sure how you’re reacting, LOL. Some people love my writing. Others hate it. Early on in my writing, I did a lot of speaking from behind masks. The older I got, the more honest and direct I became. I think that’s simply human nature. As we grow older, we learn that in the end, a lie will always return to bite you on the ass. But, I am no hero, no shaman/warrior. I am simply a common man. Even though I’ve gotten an education and have written books, I am still a person who grew up using an outhouse. I think people react strongly to my writings for varied reasons. Life can beat you down and I’ve survived my share of trauma, a lot of it self-inflicted. People can relate to that and to the fact that in a lot of my poems I don’t take any prisoners. I think many readers like to find a poem that in some way reflects their own complicated lives. I spent many years studying in the school of hard knocks and I think other readers identify with that.
We are always compelled to ask what inspires and motivates a writer. But I’ve read you converse with ghosts and don’t need to read much anymore for inspiration.
Motivation and inspiration reside in completely different galaxies. Not much inspires me these days. No doubt many ideas and folks did when I was younger. Yes, I am motivated to write. I see it as a form of survival and something inside me compels me to do it. Sometimes it’s like a curse, or an addiction, but in the end writing brings me pleasure…and amusement. If it didn’t then I wouldn’t write. And yes, I do talk to ghosts…or at least in some poems. I don’t see them floating around my house, but I do converse with them. I think it’s common for humans to speak to spirits. Hence the title of my most recent book, Random Exorcisms.
You have written 20 books, chapbooks, poetry, and novels, you taught at Oglala Lakota College for 13 years and taught poetry for 15 years at Minnesota State University in Marshall and are finally done with that. You said in an interview that after all this, you had a hard time writing and maybe it would be your last book – but now it just keeps coming to you.
Yeah, for a while I thought the flow of words had stopped…and I was actually a little relieved. I had my final book coming out. I asked Sherman Alexie for a blurb and told him this was my last damn book. Then two months later another one popped out like the Immaculate Conception. It’s called Electric Snakes and it now looks like it will be published next year. Not to pat myself on the back, but it totally kicks ass…mine and other folks as well. And now, I’ve started another…make it stop!
I had to mention your own references to Facebooking, like it is a place or a portal in time, and we all can relate to it these days, meaning both young and the old, the tech minded and the old timers who still “see” the world differently. How and why do you deal with it?
Modern media… Here’s the deal. If you could bend time and get old time Indians to see something like Facebook or Twitter they would think it was some form of magic. If they could experience Skype they would jump up and scream and run like hell. Anyways, yeah, I’m addicted to Facebook though at times it overloads my brain and makes me twitch. And I live out in the cornfields so I can stay in touch with urban minds without having to set foot in a city.
Is there something about Wovoka and the Ghost Dance that dwells inside your writing? Or ghosts of other eras?
I see the Ghost Dance and its attendant history as the prime metaphor and reality for what the colonizers did to Indian people…the genocide, the theft of land, all the pure evil. And I am from Nevada. Speaking of Wovoka, here’s a related poem, fresh out of the oven.
Soaring on eagle wings.
Engine stalls. In a nosedive.
The rising earth greets me.
I have pierced the ground.
I am swimming through
deep, dark soil, but I stop
when I see Wovoka’s bones
ghost-dancing toward me.
I ask what he’s doing here
under these Plains & shouldn’t
he be resting in Schurz, NV.
“Underground I can run fast
as a speeding bullet,” he says.
I ask him what the point
of that is but he runs away
fast without answering.
What the holy hell is this
dead world coming to?
All the questions have been about writing, is there anything else you’d like to say?
God no, I’ve blabbed too much already. I’m an old hermit and I really don’t like doing interviews, but I did this out of my great respect for you Alex. Actually, you’d make a much more interesting interview subject than me.
Adrian it has been an honor to be able to talk to you. We wish you success with “Random Exorcisms” and that you will always feel the need to write because we really feel it and need it.
Random Exorcisms (Pleiades Press) is a new book of intense, visceral and lyrical poems by Adrian C. Louis and it is ‘a terrible beauty to behold.’ It is the winner of the Lena-Miles Wever Todd Poetry Prize; Louis has won two Pushcart Prizes, and fellowships from the Bush Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Lila-Wallace-Reader’s Digest Foundation. He was an editor for Lakota Times and Indian Country Today and a co-founder of the Native American Journalists Association. For more info: www.pleiadespress.org & https://adrian-c-louis.com.
Adrian has done two poetry videos, “both produced by Sky Hopinka (Hochunk) a talented, young filmmaker. In Savage Sunsets, the prime reader is Trevino Brings Plenty, a great poet with a great voice.”