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Princeton University Press, 1962. Peterson, Houston. The Melody of Chaos. New York: Longmans, Green, 1931.

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Steven Frye

ALEXIE, SHERMAN (1966- ) Literary critics and poets alike consider Sherman Alexie one of the most important American Indian poets. In evocations of contemporary American Indian life, Alexies poems brilliantly render the complex cultural position of American Indians and the feelings that position entails. As Alexies character Lester FallsApart claims, "Poetry = Anger X Imagination." These poems often fall into one of two thematic categories: investigations of the relationships between the speaker and others, as complicated by centuries of divisive race relations, and new or revised histories that mourn or celebrate American Indian life.

Alexie was born on the Spokane Indian Reservation in Wellpinit, Washington, and began writing in college. His first collection, The Business of Fancydancing, appeared in 1992 to critical acclaim. He has since published four more full-length collections as well as several chapbooks, and he has achieved repute as a performer of his poetry by winning the World Heavyweight Championship Poetry Bout for four years in a row (1998-2001). Yet, to the general public, Alexie may be better known as a fiction writer, having published two short-story collections and two novels, and as the screenwriter of Smoke Signals, the first commercial feature film written, directed, and acted solely by American Indians, and The Business of Fancydancing.

In his poetry, Alexie writes in free verse and adaptations of traditional forms (see prosody and free verse). Not only is writing in English a problematic issue for those who regard its use as signaling the loss of indigenous language, as Robin Riley Fast explains (214-215), but the native poet may also feel that he or she can employ the dominant culture's established poetic forms only "at a slant." It thus seems fitting that Alexies formal adaptations evince both a playful irreverence and a respect for such forms' power. In "Totem Sonnets" (1996), for example, Alexie presents seven varied lists of 14 items grouped into Italian or English stanza patterns. The first sonnet lists 14 people, from Meryl Streep to Muhammed Ali, whom Alexie has elsewhere professed to admire. The opening octave lists white Americans, while the sestet presents six nonwhite people of various international origins. The traditional turn of the sestet takes us from Alexie's heroes in the dominant culture to his heroes among marginalized cultures, whose status renders these individuals' achievements greater while simultaneously indicating why these figures may be fewer in number. "Totem Sonnets" thus provides just one example of how Alexie "makes junkyard poetry out of broke-down reality, vision out of delirium tremens, prayer out of laughter" (Lincoln 270).

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