Grantee: Sherwin Bitsui
Sherwin Bitsui is a poet of exceptional depth whose visceral work is richly steeped in surrealistic imagery – the high desert, sage and piñon, black-eyed doves, the bricks and gasoline of the city – these sensuously dark psychic descriptions all inhabit his haunting verses.
Sherwin Bitsui’s work interprets cultural iconography with both literal and coded Diné translations, chants, and songs throughout this intuitive work. He has been said to transform English into his Native tongue. His readings are thought provoking, casting himself in the role of messenger, the poetic phrases and Neruda-like metaphors lingering mysteriously, almost subconsciously provocative.
“Though I write from a Diné space, I also must acknowledge the wide ranging influences that help pattern my work. I’m not entirely secular in my experience—my work is also a product of its time,” said Bitsui.
Bitsui earned a bachelor of arts degree from the University of Arizona and an associates’ of fine arts in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Art. He collaborated with filmmaker Gabriel Lopez-Shaw (Pyramid Lake Paiute) on an experimental film based on his poem “Chrysalis” (2002) and with the performance artist Reona Brass (Cree) on a 2005 installation/performance piece titled “Dear Reservation.” In 2003, his debut collection Shapeshift, was published by the prestigious University of Arizona Press and quickly drew attention to this emerging voice in Native letters.
His second work, “Flood Song” (Copper Canyon Press, 2009) was also well received and Bitsui has been recognized with a Truman Capote Creative Writing Fellowship, an Individual Poet Grant from the Witter Bynner Foundation for Poetry, a Lannan Foundation Marfa Residency, a 2008 Tucson MOCA Local Genius Award, a 2010 PEN Open Book Award and an American Book Award for his book “Flood Song.”
In 2013, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation honored Bitsui with a NACF Artist Fellowship in Literature. The fellowship supported him in continuing work on his next collections of poetry. “Being a recipient of such a prestigious fellowship has benefitted me professionally. I cannot stress enough how important this fellowship has been. It is wonderful to be included on a roster with such talented Native American artists,” said Bitsui. “Rulan Tangen (2012 NACF Dance Fellow) has been kind to include one of my poems in a performance she debuted in Santa Fe, New Mexico. This collaboration would not have been possible had we not been given the fellowships in the same year.”
“With a gaping mouth, I sought an image to describe the knot in my chest, the car door jammed – the land divided into two new car scents.
We row toward the oar wet with deer blood and onward to the edge that must be crossed with crosses hammered into it.
I see their footprints in fresh snow.
The soft spot of their childhood heads pushed branchless into the parched earth.
Gray amnesia swirling after songbirds in its dome.
The distance they traveled chipped down to a few powdery beginnings in the arroyo with flies buzzing out of it. “