Original Fire: Selected and New Poems


In this important new collection, her first in fourteen years, award-winning author Louise Erdrich has selected poems from her two previous books of poetry, Jacklight and Baptism of Desire, and has added nineteen new poems to compose Original Fire.

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Original Fire: Selected and New Poems

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In this important new collection, her first in fourteen years, award-winning author Louise Erdrich has selected poems from her two previous books of poetry, Jacklight and Baptism of Desire, and has added nineteen new poems to compose Original Fire.

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Editorial Reviews

Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The poems are hypnotic and retain an emphatic passionate fire.”
Miami Herald
“Artistically impressive and highly entertaining.”
“Erdrich is profoundly sensual, frankly bawdy and slyly comedic.”
Miami Herald
“Artistically impressive and highly entertaining.”
“Erdrich is profoundly sensual, frankly bawdy and slyly comedic.”
Los Angeles Times Book Review
“The poems are hypnotic and retain an emphatic passionate fire.”
Publishers Weekly
Though a multiply award-winning novelist, Erdrich (Love Medicine, etc.) throughout the 1980s remained committed to verse; poems from Jacklight (1984) and Baptism of Desire (1989) represent her in many anthologies, some of them focused on Ojibwe heritage. This third book of poems begins with Erdrich's earliest work (much of it indebted to Richard Hugo), moves through a series of prose tales about the long-lived potato-trickster Potchikoo, then opens out into a mix of new and old verse. "All graves are pregnant with our nearest kin," Erdrich writes, and many of her poems regard first and last things-motherhood, family, death and mourning-sometimes as mythical universals, sometimes as they take place on reservations or in cold, forlorn small towns, each with its misfit (like "Step-and-a-Half Waleski") and its patron saint (the sarcastic "Rez Litany," the rapt "Seven Sleepers"). "The relentless throat call/ of physical love," and religions designed to deflect it, animate some of Erdrich's new sequences, which incorporate fairy tales, Christian ritual and reservation lore. Though her stark lines owe much (sometimes too much) to Louise Gl ck, Erdrich's particular landscapes and affiliations, and her way with myths and talismans, ensure that her poems, new and old, retain strengths all their own. (Oct.) Forecast: This volume seems designed to work in tandem with Erdrich's next novel, The Master Butcher's Singing Club, which shares scenes and characters with "The Butcher's Wife," a poetic sequence included here: expect joint reviews, especially in the upper Midwest, where Erdrich makes her home, and runs a bookstore. (Oct.) Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
Erdrich's collection of new and old works includes five sections: Jacklight contains poems inspired by life on Turtle Mountain Reservation in North Dakota. The Potchikoo Stories is a series of Chippewa trickster fables. The Butcher's Wife is based on the characters in Erdrich's novel, The Master Butchers Singing Club (HarperCollins, 2003). The Seven Sleepers offers surreal poems, some speculating on the lives of Roman Catholic saints, Jesus Christ, and Mary Magdalene, and other poems satirizing the victimization of Native Americans by the "Holy Colonial Church." Original Fire comprises poems about life, death, and everything in between. Poems based on characters from Erdrich's novels stand adequately on their own although reading the novels might make the poems more meaningful. Some poems in The Seven Sleepers might jump too quickly from metaphor to metaphor, especially for young readers, who also might find some of the topics and viewpoints in the Original Fire section slanted more toward adults. Erdrich's poems about life on the reservation are the heart of this book. She makes brilliant use of detail, such as her description of the "inflammable mansmell" of her alcoholic Uncle Ray, a blend of "hair tonic, ashes [and] alcohol." Combinations of poems often have a powerful synergy, with one poem contributing to the meaning of another. "Rez Litany," for example, explains the effects of substandard healthcare and "commodity food" on reservation dwellers, insight that enhances the reader's understanding of "Family Reunion," in which the narrator's uncle's "bad heart . . . knocks and rattles at the bars of his ribs." Although accessible, Erdrich's poetry is also dense with meaning, andre-readings will enhance both enjoyment and understanding. VOYA Codes: 4Q 3P S A/YA (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Will appeal with pushing; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12; Adult-marketed book recommended for Young Adults). 2003, HarperCollins, 159p., Ages 15 to Adult.
—James Blasingame
Library Journal
Well known and respected for her fiction (e.g., Love Medicine), Erdrich is an accomplished poet. With this volume, drawn from two previous collections and including 100 pages of new poems, she presents her first collection in over a decade. The progression of her interests as a poet is evident here and clearly parallels her fiction. Poems from the first collection chronicle her Native American childhood and early schooling, while those from the second rework or invent Native American mythology. The new poems are more rooted in Catholicism and life as a middle-class American, yet they are imbued with an animistic spirit that is part of her heritage. A wonderful series of poems to various saints culminates unexpectedly in "Rez Litany," a tour de force of all the harm done by the church to those on the reservations, including those "who preside now in heaven/ at the gates of the Grand Casino Buffet." After concluding this poem with a plea for protection of "fourteen-year-old mothers," Erdrich moves into the book's final section, on childbirth and mothering, from which the book takes its title. Essential reading for fans of Erdrich's fiction, this volume can be expected to draw poetry readers into the fold.-Rochelle Ratner, formerly with "Soho Weekly News," New York Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060935344
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 8/17/2004
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Sales rank: 998,987
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 0.44 (d)

Meet the Author

Louise Erdrich

Louise Erdrich is the author of fourteen novels as well as volumes of poetry, short stories, children's books, and a memoir of early motherhood. Her novel The Round House won the 2012 National Book Award. She lives in Minnesota, where she owns the bookstore Birchbark Books.

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    1. Also Known As:
      Louise Karen Erdrich (full name; pronounced "air-drik")
    2. Hometown:
      Minneapolis, Minnesota
    1. Date of Birth:
      June 7, 1954
    2. Place of Birth:
      Little Falls, Minnesota
    1. Education:
      B.A., Dartmouth College, 1976; M.A., Johns Hopkins University, 1979

Table of Contents

Jacklight 3
The Woods 6
The Strange People 7
Captivity 9
Owls 12
I Was Sleeping Where the Black Oaks Move 14
Family Reunion 16
Indian Boarding School: The Runaways 19
Dear John Wayne 21
Manitoulin Ghost 23
Three Sisters 25
The Lefavor Girls 27
Walking in the Breakdown Lane 29
The Red Sleep of Beasts 30
The Birth of Potchikoo 35
Potchikoo Marries 36
How Potchikoo Got Old 37
The Death of Potchikoo 39
Potchikoo's Life After Death 41
How They Don't Let Potchikoo into Heaven 41
Where Potchikoo Goes Next 42
Potchikoo's Detour 44
Potchikoo Greets Josette 45
Potchikoo Restored 46
Potchikoo's Mean Twin 47
How Josette Takes Care of It 49
Saint Potchikoo 50
The Butcher's Wife 55
That Pull from the Left 57
The Carmelites 59
Clouds 60
Shelter 64
The Slow Sting of Her Company 67
Here Is a Good Word for Step-and-a-Half Waleski 69
Portrait of the Town Leonard 71
Leonard Commits Redeeming Adulteries with All the Women in Town 73
Unexpected Dangers 75
My Name Repeated on the Lips of the Dead 77
A Mother's Hell 80
Rudy Comes Back 82
New Vows 84
Fooling God 87
The Sacraments 89
The Seven Sleepers 97
Avila 107
Saint Clare 109
Mary Magdalene 116
Christ's Twin 117
Orozco's Christ 119
The Savior 120
The Buffalo Prayer 122
Rez Litany 123
The Fence 129
Ninth Month 131
Birth 132
New Mother 133
Sorrows of the Frog Woman 135
Time 140
Spring Evening on Blind Mountain 141
Blue 142
Thistles 143
Best Friends in the First Grade 144
Little Blue Eyeglasses 145
Grief 146
Wood Mountain 147
Advice to Myself 149
Morning Fire 151
Asiniig 153
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First Chapter

Original Fire
Selected and New Poems


The same Chippewa word is used both for flirting and hunting game, while another Chippewa word connotes both using force in intercourse and also killing a bear with one's bare hands.

-- R. W. Dunning, Social and Economic Change Among the Northern Ojibwa (1959)

We have come to the edge of the woods,
out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
out of knotted twigs, out of leaves creaked shut,
out of hiding.

At first the light wavered, glancing over us.
Then it clenched to a fist of light that pointed,
searched out, divided us.
Each took the beams like direct blows the heart answers.
Each of us moved forward alone.

We have come to the edge of the woods,
drawn out of ourselves by this night sun,
this battery of polarized acids,
that outshines the moon.

We smell them behind it
but they are faceless, invisible.
We smell the raw steel of their gun barrels,
mink oil on leather, their tongues of sour barley.
We smell their mothers buried chin-deep in wet dirt.
We smell their fathers with scoured knuckles,
teeth cracked from hot marrow.
We smell their sisters of crushed dogwood, bruised apples,
of fractured cups and concussions of burnt hooks.

We smell their breath steaming lightly behind the jacklight.
We smell the itch underneath the caked guts on their clothes.
We smell their minds like silver hammers
cocked back, held in readiness
for the first of us to step into the open.

We have come to the edge of the woods,
out of brown grass where we slept, unseen,
out of leaves creaked shut, out of hiding.
We have come here too long.

It is their turn now,
their turn to follow us. Listen,
they put down their equipment.
It is useless in the tall brush.

Original Fire
Selected and New Poems
. Copyright © by Louise Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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Sort by: Showing all of 3 Customer Reviews
  • Posted June 23, 2009

    I Also Recommend:

    Strong Poetry

    Louise Erdrich has done it again with her strong poetry. These poems take the reader places s/he may not have thought about going before but by the end of the book they're glad they made the trip.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 15, 2003

    Mysterious Worlds

    Louise Erdrich is an original voice. She draws upon the mystery of people in nature and the nature of people. She is an extraordinary poet.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 25, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

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