Tuesday, December 29, 2009

James Welch ...

I remember being introduced to the work of James Welch back in the 1980s, and being struck by the power and (especially) the bleakness of his writing. Welch was a Native American from up on the Hi-Line, and another product of the great creative writing program at the University of Montana. His novels are despairing things, capturing the desolation and hopelessness of Montana reservation life with a poignancy that other authors have largely been unable to match.

He certainly didn't paint endearing pictures of our part of the world, though. Here's a stanza from a poem of his, titled "Harlem, Montana: Just off the Reservation." It was first published in the April 1968 issue of Poetry magazine:
Harlem, your hotel is overnamed, your children
are raggedy-assed but you go on, survive
the bad food from the two cafes and peddle
your hate for the wild who bring you money.
When you die, if you die, will you remember
the three young bucks who shot the grocery up,
locked themselves in and cried for days, we're rich
help us, oh God, we're rich.


  1. I remember reading "Fools Crow" decades ago; I think I had the book for years, must have got it from some book club. It was really good if I'm remembering right.

    On another note, I read a big epic style Western from the library on Okinawa back in the 60's...the hero's name was Archie...his lady friend called him her 'big ol' Catamount'. I was very impressed with the book, but forgot the name of it in the passage of years. Wish I could find that book again.

  2. It's been a long time, but if I remember right the book of his that most impressed me was Winter in the Blood ... at least, that would fit with my theory that an author's best novel is very often his first one.

    And as for your second paragraph ... believe me, I can totally relate! And it's getting worse as middle age continues to do a number on me. For me, it's the recent stuff that my mind has started to discard ... I can remember entire class reading lists from high school and college, but have absolutely no idea what I looked at a month ago. It sucks.