Tuesday, April 4, 2017

ARTSPEAK! Portraits poem "I Am"

Hello and Happy National Poetry Month! Here it is, day 4 of ARTSPEAK!: Portraits, my National Poetry Month poem-a- day project, during which I am looking, listening with my spirit ear, and asking these subject to share with me their secrets.

But first: be sure to check out the Michelle's line of our 2017 Progressive Poem over at Today's Little Ditty. While you're there, be sure to check out the March padlet of amazing inspiring ode poems! What a gift!

Here are the ARTSPEAK! Portraits poems so far:

3. "What If?" after Portrait of Camille Roulin by Vincent van Gogh
2. "The Lady Confesses" after Portrait of a Lady with Mask and Cherries by Benjamin Wilson
1. "Mona Lisa in Love" after Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci

Today I've decided to have a conversation with "The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas" by George Catlin. In order to give White Cloud an authentic voice, I needed to do some research. Here is a great essay about White Cloud. You'll see I was able to incorporate some of the information found there into my poem.
As always, when writing across cultures, I am aware that I may miss the mark in my efforts at empathy. But I do believe it's important we try. And it's important to remember First Nations people and teach about their near-genocide as a result of U.S. government policy.

Here's what White Cloud told me:

I Am
-after "The White Cloud, Head Chief of the Iowas" by George Catlin

I am White Cloud, Chief of the Iowas.
I smear my face with vermillion

so you will know the strength
and power of my hands.

I clothe myself in gifts from my animal
brothers: eagle feathers, wolf skin, otter fur.

Of all my enemies, the white man
is the one I cannot honor,

the one I will never defeat.

Even a bear will give you the mark of its claws.
But the white man takes

and takes and takes, until all that's left
is a curl of smoke vanishing into air.

Look at me: I am here. I will always be here.

- Irene Latham
A friend and I were talking the other day about persona poems, and how they often give us insight into the poet. This is true! Even as I am asking these subjects to tell me their secrets, I am also telling you about ME. For instance, in this poem, I hope you can detect in my poem my long-time appreciation for First Nations spirituality and the way their culture celebrates the earth and our connectedness to the natural world and all life, before and after our own.


  1. Yes. I can see YOU in this. And, I share that love with you. Lately, I've been a little afraid of writing/saying/typing words that are unintentionally disrespectful of another culture. I think you are courageous to share this, yourself and the words.Your last line is such a peacemaker of sorts....I will always be here....meaning I and all that I believe in. That's so hopeful and an invitation to engage in a way that's good for all.

  2. Wow. That solitary line in the middle. That ending. Powerful.

  3. I love the way the portrait - and now your poem - show him to us.

  4. "I will always be here." And now the pipeline is back. The sympathy has disappeared again. You've shown the sorrow of this man, and his people. I enjoyed reading the essay, too, Irene.

  5. Wonderful, powerful, insightful. You're right about persona poems -- I enjoyed hearing White Cloud's voice and sensing your feelings and attitudes at the same time.

  6. Wow. I am coming back to this on Day 18, as your poems talk across each other so wisely. xx


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