Reviews of Recent Books
Rain Taxi review of Ghost Stories of the New West: ”Former Kansas Poet Laureate Denise Low is a poet, editor, publisher, professor, and ghost hunter. Though this last fact may not be widely known outside Kansas—nor is it necessarily the opinion of the author herself—sufficient evidence exists inside the 126 pages of her latest offering, Ghost Stories of the New West. Filled with vivid imagery of the land and the culture, and both verse and prose, the book is an enchanting tribute to the plains and the history long buried there beneath the bluestem that grows wild. Low, who is of partial Lenape and Tsalagi (Cherokee) descent, freely applies more than just a smattering of Native American knowledge throughout the book. Surgical with the familiar and charming with the ancient, she uses every word to remind us of what has never been truer: it is the land, as much as the people who once inhabited it, that shapes this country….” See full review: http://www.raintaxi.com/online/2012summer/low.php
Gently Read Literature review of Ghost Stories of the New West: http://issuu.com/gently_read_literature/docs/september_issue
Kansas City Star (12 Feb. 2011) had this to say about Ghost Stories of the New West: “Let Denise Low, a former Kansas poet laureate (2007-2009), tell you tales of the Great Plains with her recent book “Ghost Stories of the New West.”Her poems take readers through the natural tapestries and landscapes that we Midwesterners are lucky to have. With the poem “Trailhead,” we observe the plight of travelers on the Oregon Trail: “Watch for travelers/ who risk what they have/ for what might happen.” Read “On Thompson River” or “Flint Hills Twilight” to the one you love and let their vision of this land and the hopes that endure within it resonate.”
Midwest Review of Books review: The west never truly died. “Ghost Stories of the New West” is a collection of poetry from Denise Low as she offers a thoughtful collection of poetry offering a deep and thought filled gaze into the history of the western United States and the people who came before her. Thoughtful and thought-provoking, “Ghost Stories of the New West” is not a collection to be overlooked. “Inside Her Belly: The Spine”: The creation story begins with fog./Oceans are the sky./Valleys are the dark voids.//The hero has delicate fish bones/connected to a lumpen head.//Or delicate fern-leaf vertebra/curl around uncertain middle continents./Or is this water snake’s spine/Or a limestone fossil’s–returning to life?” http://www.midwestbookreview.com/sbw/nov_10.htm
Flint Hills Review: In her new collection, Ghost Stories of the New West, Denise Low not only continues to share perceptions of the natural world, but she applies her talent for tilling the surface and digging deep beneath topsoil to unearth legacies of both renowned and lesser-known archetypes of the west: Among them, Confederate General General George Armstrong Custer, scout Kit Carson, sheriff and gunslinger Bill Hickok, poet Walt Whitman, Geronimo and other American Indians, including her Lenape Indian grandfather and her grandmother buried in the Wyandot Cemetery, and “old drovers,” Jake Bruner and “Great-Uncle Ed.” Along with penning lines about these “ghosts,” she writes poems about more recent Kansas celebrities, such as William Burroughs and Langston Hughes, and characters from her more immediately genealogy, such as “Where My Father Went after He Died.”—Lindsey Martin-Bowen
American Indian Library Association Newsletter Vol. 32.2 (Nov. 2011). Natural Theologies is the first book of critical essays about contemporary Midwestern writers. Denise Low, of Delaware and Cherokee heritage, foregrounds Native writers, including Louise Erdrich, Heid Erdrich, Diane Glancy, Joseph Mar-shall III, and Adrian C. Louis. The four sections of Natural Theologies are about history, settlements in the Plains, Midwestern people and their character, and nature. The author considers not only the legacy of “frontier,” but also the enduring narratives of settler/Native interactions. The essay “Two Aspects of Western Landscape: Migration Trails and Landmarks,” shows how the Southeast tribes’ Trails of Tears contribute to the literary tradition as well as settler incursions. “Cowboys and Lakotas” reconfigures the stereotype of “cowboys and Indians” through analysis of Joseph Marshall III’s histories of Crazy Horse and the Little Bighorn battle. The essay also considers the writings about the Lakota by Conger Beasley, Sylvia Wheeler, and Adrian C. Louis, who is an enrolled Paiute writer. Through the generations, intermarriage is another exchange among the cultures, and Heid Erdrich’s poetry explicates her German-Ojibwa heritage. This is the subject of Low’s essay, “A Mother’s Poetic Tongue: Heid Erdrich’s Affirming Identity.” The controlling metaphor for the collection, natural theologies, comes from the philosophical branch that concerns itself with natural law. Low writes of the grasslands: “Natural processes overwhelm human constructions, creating, among the literary artisans, a theme of spirituality.” This original book by the Kansas former poet laureate has a wide-lens view of Mid-Plains literature. It has a place in Native and non-Native library collections as well as the classroom.
Elby Adamson, Manhattan Mercury review of Ghost Stories: It is difficult to imagine that anyone interested in the contemporary literature of Kansas isn’t aware of the work of Denise Low. Low, who lives in Lawrence and teaches at Haskell Indian Nations University is quite possibly the most widely known and published Kansas poet/writer living today. She has produced 20 books, edited several more and has won numerous awards for her writing. Low earned a PhD from the University of Kansas and an MFA from Wichita State University. She also served a two-year term as Kansas Poet Laureate from 2007 -2009. In an interview with Miranda Ericsson in 2008 that can be found on Washburn University’s literary web page, Low said, “Kansas has shaped my language. It has shaped my diurnal rhythms. It has shaped my sense of height and depth and spatial awareness. All these feed the writing.”
Low is preeminently a writer of place and that place is Kansas. But in these pieces, place takes on dimensions not only of space and geography but also of history and heritage. Her work reflects much of Native American spiritual beliefs. Often she makes use of the seven sacred directions. In such poems as “Our Grandfather’s Turquoise Ring,” “Seven Marriage Offerings” and “Dreams of Geese,” Low consciously uses the sacred directions or the seasons associated with them to structure the pieces.
In the interview mentioned above Low said among writers influencing her work were William Stafford, William Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg, Susan Power, Leslie Marmon Silko, Mary Oliver and Rainer Maria Rilke. The influence some of these writers may be more evident than others. For example the lyric qualities of Rilke’s work and the blending of Native American and Euro-American culture in Leslie Marmon Silkos’ works especially mixtures of poetry and prose such as Storyteller can arguably be found in Low’s material.
However, two writers she didn’t mention could offer insight into her techniques and talents. The fusion of poetry and prose in M. Scott Momaday’s House Made of Dawn is at least suggestive of the blended elements of poetry and prose readily found in much Denise Low’s writing. Momaday’s juxta-positioning of Native American culture and values with those of Euro-American culture could easily be seen as the soil that gave rise to Low’s intermingling of White and Native American culture. Low’s heritage includes Delaware/Lenape roots. In the prose piece “Ghosts on the Santa Fe Trail,” Low says she and her husband stayed in an old hotel on the Santa Fe Trail where her husband saw a ghost in a rocking chair, a ghost she “discerns” after he tells her about it. “She takes form as completely as though she were real. Oddly, I realize she is not much older than I am. In some future, I might walk across the room and find myself in her world, myself a ghost-person.” Perhaps Low, like Rilke, would say, “The future enters into us in order to
transform itself in us long before it happens.”
Later in the same piece Low borrows a story from her Native American heritage and links it to the specter in the room. “I remember a story about a Native woman whose French husband went to St. Louis and never returned. Every morning the bereaved woman looked for his boat. He may have stayed with another wife in St. Louis or perhaps he died. I wonder now if this ghost-woman is trapped in the same tragedy.”
The blending of cultures and the synthesis of poetry and prose is found throughout Ghost Stories of the New West. Another writer whose work has many qualities that resonate in Low’s writing is John Neihardt. In works such as Black Elk Speaks and his A Cycle of the West with its five epic poems Neihardt showed beyond a doubt he was a poet of place and deeply interested in Native American culture and the flow of history. These are components Low incorporates, utilizes and masters in her poetry and prose. Low, as Neihardt did, moves between prose and poetry and sometimes blurs the two in ways that become a creative form of its own force. Obviously, Low isn’t doing a cycle or a work on an epic scale but her work arguably contains elements of imagery, sound and meaning that carry it into realm of the finest writing.