“Penobscot Voices: Kikukus” by Michael Campagnoli; Amsterdam Press, Amsterdam, Ohio, 2009; 42 pages, saddle-stitched, $8.
For once, here’s a book whose title is securely attached to its contents. The 16 poems of “Penobscot Voices: Kikukus” are representations of voices from Maine’s Penobscot and Passamaquoddy tribes. They include a variety of characters telling stories of their own and their tribal pasts, remarking on life as Indians know it (for better and worse), the ironies of dealing with white people, and the ironies of dealing with Indians.
“Kikukus,” we learn early on, “Means / ‘cure thyself,’” and one of the principal themes is the problem of getting and being well, in just about every way you can think of, from physically to socially to legally to ancestrally. Quite a bit of this – from voice to being – feels skillfully dissolved into the poem “First Kill”:
Penawahpskewi will not eat.
Trapped meat, too, given away.
This has been. Even now,
first kill shared equally.
The idea survives.
laugh. They sneer at this.
The idea survives.
The language here is attempting to re-create an entire complex of sensibilities inside Indian reality. To my mind, it is, like the rest of the book, succeeding to an extraordinarily evocative and authentic sense. “Penobscot Voices” is in many ways a followup to Peter Anastas’ 1973 book “Glooskap’s Children,” which was a compendium of journals and testimonies about life on Indian Island. Campagnoli this time compresses the same material into verse.
No doubt some people will object that it’s presumptuous for a white guy from Rockland to be writing poems purporting to speak in Indian voices. But the author tells us in a foreword that his material is generated out of a relationship forged with a Penobscot Nation governor. Add to that that Michael Campagnoli has one of the most capable and sensitive literary ears along the midcoast in recent years, and the result is poetry to be enjoyed for its evocative authenticity and to be taken seriously even by academics for its deftness and timely topicality.
Michael Campagnoli lives in Rockland. His poems have appeared in many literary publications as well as the Bangor Daily News Uni-Verse column, and his chapbook “Ah-Meddy-Ga” won the All Nations Press Chapbook Award for 2004. “Penobscot Voices” is available through amazon.com.