Reprinted from The Broadkill Review. If you would like any information on The Broadkill Review contact me and I’ll forward you information from the publisher, poet and critic Jamie Brown,
While I sat in a chipped school desk, its layers of pressed composite peeling back like the shell of a soft crab, my fourth grade teacher asked me to read aloud the section of our history book that dealt with Pocahontas being baptized, and when I read the sentences, my elementary brain paused, both with thrill and delight, at the mention of Reverend Alexander Whitaker, who shared my surname. Mrs. Jarvis asked me if I was related and I didn’t know what to say; I nodded or grunted goat-like and kept on reading, thrilled with the recognition that my name existed outside of my body, my life, that there was a bit of myself floating up in history, typed on the moldy, musty pages of our text. Alas, it turns out I wasn’t related to Alex Whitaker, not directly, anyhow; my own roots belonged to a indentured servant on the eastern shore of Maryland, rather than to the parson who would eventually help found Henrico county, near Richmond. However, the thrill of that near-discovery stayed with me. Names, as it turns out, and their place in history, can strike mystery in one’s imagination, a feeling of existential discovery shared by many of the voices in Lenny Lianne’s A Wilderness of Riches (
There is much to discover in the book, and if one does not remember much about the
To say that the poems are a story would be too simple, but it is a narrative we know and have forgotten. The best poems in A Wilderness of Riches concern Pocahontas, the heroine of the narrative. And she is a fitting heroine, for she speaks for the native Powhatan Indians of the Algonquin tribe, for the land, as well as for the English, and her story sharpens the book’s subtext of marriage, and a woman’s place in the
In the title poem, when John Smith, a buffoon prone to exaggeration (my sentiment, not Lianne’s) describes the coast as “present[ing] itself like a new bride,” Lianne sets the arc to not only retell the stories of the settlement of Jamestown, but also to bring into focus the bluntness and harshness the English afforded their own women.
Hart Crane’s Pocahontas in The Bridge was both the savage woman who tamed English hearts as well as the sexy swelling hills of
While the first section recounts the settlers’ lean times, the bloated riches that Pocahontas encounters after she is stolen away and taken to
My favorite moment in her story is in “Vernacular of Night” when she lies next to dull Thomas Rolfe (whom she views in “Before Marriage” as a “strange little man… who can neither hunt…or fashion…trinkets.”) and voices native words for plants and animals as her husband snores and dreams of tobacco. Pocahontas spends much time contemplating her names -- her secret name and her new Christian name -- and it is this understanding of the shades of a name, and therefore of identity, that give the section its heart and brain. It is the same insight that allows her, in “Our Lodgings in
And Pocahontas remains a lonely figure, lost to both societies, and eventually left coughing in the bitter damp cold of an English winter wishing she were home in the wild gathering tubers in “As I close my eyes against the Cold.” Her loss is our loss, and her loneliness is echoed in the third section of Lianne’s volume, the Brides for the Colony: Voices of the Early Immigrant Women, where the new brides’ individual experience is explored in the loose corona “Brides for the Colony.
The final section of the volume sees slavery find its home in the
Lianne’s book is a fine addition to the history and lore of