November 14, 2012
When Stephen Colbert pointed out with incredulity that he had come out with yet another book, Sherman Alexie said, “That’s what happens when you’re literate.”
Yes, from reading to writing: it’s as easy as that, as inevitable.
So he has nothing in common with the Indians in “Song of Myself”: the red girl with “voluptuous limbs” getting married to the trapper, “held firmly [in] the wrist” by him; or “her father and his friends [sitting] near by crosslegged and dumbly smoking.”
Alexie hardly ever mentions Whitman. When he speaks admiringly of poetry — in The First Indian on the Moon — it is a different name that comes to his lips: “Muhammed Ali’s poetry floated like a butterfly and stung like a bee. We should all write exactly the way.”
Still, there is that poem about the nineteenth-century poet, on the reservation, on a basketball court — “Defending Walt Whitman.” Of course it has to be defense: you don’t want that guy to get too close, to catch you unawares and put you in his damn poetry, still more read in the 21st century than most of the stuff that’s coming out right now.
But Alexie also says: “Walt Whitman stands/ at center court while the Indian boys run from basket to basket./ Walt Whitman cannot tell the difference between/ offense and defense. He does not care if he touches the ball.”
Not sure if that’s actually true. Let’s say it’s a hoop dream. Alexie’s. Also Whitman’s.