Claire’s 2nd Critical Article

Tanner, Travis J. “Reading “From Sand Creek..” Kenyon Review 32.1 (2010): 142-164. Academic Search Complete. Web. 27 Apr. 2013.

In Travis J. Tanner’s article titled, “Reading from Sand Creek,” he compares Simon Ortiz’s work to Bartolome de las Casas’s A Brief Account of the Destruction of the Indies. His goal in this essay is to show how even though there is a gap of four hundred years lying between these two works, the way in which they both capture the crimes against native people of the Americas proves how “the horrors of the past persist unabated in the present” (Tanner 142).  Though I myself have not read Las Casas’s work, I think it is a wise choice to analyze Ortiz’s work in the context of another, because in some ways it is elusive and its meaning subtle.

However, Tanner also examines “significant differences” between the two texts, which he attributes most to the differences in the style of narration used by each author.  He discusses how Las Casas’s style is much more direct and detailed, with an intense narration of the extreme violent actions he observes, in the “hopes [it] will have a salutary effect” and cause the king to which he is reporting to take action (142).  However, Tanner believes Las Casas to be far too objective, “grounded in factual observation,” and that by “exposing the crimes of the Spanish, he also silences the Indians from…being able to speak for themselves” (145).

After pointing out the flaws behind Las Casas’s approach to exposing crimes against Native Americans, he goes on to discuss why Ortiz’s indirect and less aggressive method of addressing history is more effective.  Tanner breaks this down into two reasons, one being that Ortiz, with his poetry, “situate[s] the reader in the history of the Sand Creek massacre,” and also creates a renewed way of interpreting history that “enjoins Indians and whites in the making of a new historical narrative”.  I like this argument a lot, because it makes the significance of Ortiz’s work far more clear and far more profound.  By first discussing the antagonistic, split-sided view of Las Casa’s work, Tanner is able to more strongly highlight the more “peaceful and sustainable” approach taken by Ortiz, that unifies our history with the Native Americans rather than viewing them as two separate entities (148).

He spends much of his essay following this centering around the ways in which Ortiz, using from Sand Creek, “blurs the line between past and present” (151).  The purpose of this Tanner believes is to make us interact with history and destruction, “not attempt[ing] to overcome trauma” but instead “show[ing] us how to live with it (153-4).  He examines how Ortiz, with the style of his poetry, makes language into a much more interactive process in which those reading it are able to act as “negotiators of the past, present, and future” (154).  This definitely sheds a lot of light on the purpose Ortiz is attempting to achieve with from Sand Creek, which initially seems a bit disjointed and without anything to unify it as a whole.  What Tanner points out shows that history and this poem are rather similar.  They both seem like a series of random events, unconnected, yet the way in which we can interact with them and immerse ourselves in them is what unifies it all. 

Moving on from this idea, Tanner then goes on to discuss how Ortiz “reconfigures the perception that erases Indians from history”.  One example he gives of this is the structure of the poem, and the way some lines move away from the spine of the book.  Tanner says that this structure conveys a change “from a vertical structure of power and domination to a horizontal plane of equality and freedom” (156).  This is an enlightening idea, as we spent much time in class questioning the structure of the poem, and what significance it possesses.  It also seems like this could refer to the mostly blank pages that have horizontally structured couplets, as opposed to the tiered stanzas on the opposite pages.

Winding down his essay, Tanner talks of how Ortiz’s poetry ultimately “fosters the belief that we are all part of history and can change it together,” reading from Sand Creek as a hopeful and optimistic poem about participating in the past rather than observing it (157).  This relates to the arguments we had in class about whether or not we thought the tone of the poem ended on a positive note or a more wary, foreboding.  Though I initially thought when we had that discussion that the latter was true, Tanner’s article has made me second-guess that idea and see it in more of a positive light.  


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