Native Peoples of Oklahoma – Literary Traditions – 5.0.3 The Way to Rainy Mountain


>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah. Well you mentioned “The
Way to Rainy Mountain”, and that’s of course the book we’re going to be reading for this
class. I wonder if we could talk about that book, which really doesn’t look like a lot
of other books.>>Dr. Veile: It doesn’t. But you know, Momaday
is very proud of his Indian background: Kiowa on his father’s side, Cherokee on his mother’s
side.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: But he was also a PHD student,
and studied American Literature at Stanford. He draws on his Indian experience at Jemez,
but he also has a thorough knowledge of American literature. And “House Made of Dawn” is influenced
I think, I mean “The Way to Rainy Mountain” is influenced a great deal, and Momaday in
general by Hemmingway and Faulkner.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: It sounds– those two are so
different it’s hard to see how you could be influenced by both, but he was. For one thing
they were both post-modernist,–>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: “The Way to Rainy Mountain” in
many ways is a book of fragments or a collage, you know.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Sort of an assemblage of prose,
poetry, his father’s artwork—>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –short narrative anecdotes,
historical anecdotes.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And modernism is very much a
literature of fragments.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: But Hemmingway’s “[The] Snows
of Kilimanjaro”, “The Snows of Kilimanjaro” you know of course Eliot’s “[The] Waste Land”.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And Momaday was made with all
of that, and so assembling a book as a collage was something he got really from his study
of literature as he did—but the theme is—>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –the rise and greatness of the
Kiowa civilization, which as he says is the last great civilization to evolve on North
America. And he uses these different genres if you would–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –to try to capture that experience,
but the book is thematically united by the fact it’s about the Kiowas and his relationship
to them.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: Particularly the trip the Kiowas
made in the 18th century moving out of the mountain West and down to Oklahoma—it wasn’t
Oklahoma, the plains. And on the way getting the Sun Dance religion and the culture of
the Plains Indians and getting the horse of course, and the buffalo hunting and the Sun
Dance religion, and you know building it into a great civilization. And so Momaday traces
a path from Wyoming, Devil’s Tower, Wyoming down to Rainy Mountain, which is very near
where he spent the early part of his youth.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm. Well I think that’s really
well-described, and I think that’s going to help a lot of people know how to read the
book and how to approach it and kind of see how it is that it’s developing its own arch.>>Dr. Veile: Well he, he has his pattern.
He starts with a poem–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –and then his essay, which talks
about Kiowa civilization and his relationship to it, and it’s kind of that he has these
three different voices.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: He starts with a myth.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: For instance, it’s a myth about
a, a buffalo with steel horns.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And then he tells a little historical
line into it–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –about the last buffalo hunt
in Carnegie.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And then he tells a story how
he and his father were walking at the Wichita Wildlife Preserve–>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: –and they were chased by a buffalo.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And so he has the mythic, the
historical and the personal.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And it goes through.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, and that’s a pretty regular
kind of habit so–.>>Dr. Veile: There’s a regular alternation.>>Dr. Nelson: Right, right. As we see those
just almost on any given page, you can see those three pieces–>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: –play out?>>Dr. Veile: Yes, yes.>>Dr. Nelson: Right. So looking for that interaction
and looking for the thread that connects is, is one of the kind of, to my mind, one of
the most rewarding parts of reading that again. To you know, kind of follow the, the thread
that unites it all.>>Dr. Veile: Yes. And the overall structure
he has a prologue and an epilogue, starting poem and an ending poem. And he has three
sections of these three voices.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: One is called the Starting Out,
one is the Going On, and one is the Closing In.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And it, it gives it a rise and
fall of the Kiowa civilization. And the important thing is…two things. One, he thinks history
is not what happens to you, but what you choose to happen.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: So he thinks the same thing of
personalities. You make yourself.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Your Maker sent you a choice.
So the Kiowas he said, developed a good idea of who they were. They determined who they
were.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: He calls it– he calls them a
people of buffalo hunters and thieves. And he tells about them and how they saw themselves.
And the other thing about it is…he doesn’t have what Gerald Vizenor calls victimist history.
He talks about the end of the Kiowa civilization and, and how it was painful to the Kiowas
but he doesn’t, he’s aware that—he’s not looking for pity.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: The Kiowas had a lot of battles.
They won many. They lost many. They developed a great civilization. This isn’t a story of
pure tragedy. It is a story of triumph as well as tragedy.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: So it’s a very upbeat book.>>Dr. Nelson: Right, yeah. It it gets us to
some poignant moments. When he’s talking about his grandmother’s apprehension of, of deocide,
right?>>Dr. Veile: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Nelson: That’s a really touching moment,
but you’re right. So all right, here’s one of the things that I’ve, I’ve wondered about.
In seeing these three different voices getting into dialogue, it seems to me that in the
latter part of the book we start to see those kind of coming together and the lines between
them becoming a little blurrier. And maybe it’s that kind of moment that helps it to
be not just a book of tragedy?>>Dr. Veile: Yes and, and you know in the
epilogue it goes on. And the, one of the things you take away with it is a thing that Americans
really need to know—they’re still here. The Kiowas haven’t gone anywhere. Some people
seem to think that the Indians have gone, are vanishing Americans. And that was a theme,
you know–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –a, a trope, the vanishing American.
Well they haven’t vanished.>>Dr. Nelson: Right, oh yeah. I mean hell
they have a movie called The Vanishing American, right?>>Dr. Veile: And there’s been this Renaissance
where this is in many ways their finest hour.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: There’s been an effervescence
of culture–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –and that’s one of the themes
of the book. “We’re still here.”>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: “I’m here. Watch me.”>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, absolutely right. Still
writing, in fact?>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: Yeah, the guy’s got a lot of
books to his name.>>Dr. Veile: Yes. He’s still writing poetry.
I’m in touch with him, I see him about once a year.>>Dr. Nelson: Oh, oh that’s wonderful.>>Dr. Nelson: When you were talking earlier about modernism and, and it’s influence on Momaday’s writing, I was suddenly reminded, and I don’t think I’d ever thought of it before,
that Ezra Pound looks to kind of figure in in some ways to the poetic way that Momaday
is going about his work. There’s a lot of imagism, it seems to me?>>Dr. Veile: Yes, definitely imagism. Whether
he gets it from Pound or wherever he gets — oh! I’ll tell you. There are two real sources.
One his mentor, Yvor Winters at Stanford–>>Dr. Nelson: Hmmm.>>Dr. Veile: –was greatly influenced by.
And second, the imagists themselves used Indian poetry, Chippewa Northerns–>>Dr. Nelson: Hmmm.>>Dr. Veile: And the form they–>>Dr. Nelson: I didn’t know that.>>Dr. Veile: –encountered it, someone put
it in a book called, “Chippewa Music”—or “Chippewa Songs”–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –in about nineteen nine to ten.
And they printed the music, and the songs as you know like forty nights songs had long
choruses in the refrain?>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Well, the choruses were largely
vocables. So what you got from this book of Chippewa songs were these cryptic two-line
haiku-like songs like, “A bird I thought it was, but it was my beloved’s stroking oar.”
And, “They looked like petals on a wet black bow.”
>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: You know, the Pound poem.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: They weren’t that way in performance.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: They were largely chanting and
refrain.>>Dr. Nelson: Huh.>>Dr. Veile: But as they were issued in this
book, people can’t read music by a march so they ignore it.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: And they just look at this refrain.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And the imagists saw this, and
it was important to them. And their idea of Indian poetry was two-line couplet-like haiku
images.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: And usually very strong images.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: “I hear the sound of somewhere
in the spring.” You know, very cryptic. And that influenced the imagists, which influenced
Winters, who was very interested in what he considered Indian poetry.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: And he passed it on to Momaday.>>Dr. Nelson: So we’ve got a kind of re-re-appropriation
going on?>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: Now that’s fascinating.>>Dr. Veile: Very much.>>Dr. Nelson: I imagine you probably told
me that in class and I forgot it, but I’ll remember it now. [both laugh] No, that’s wonderful.
As we’re thinking about the different voices going on, I wonder if you would add to that
then the kind of graphic voice?>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: We’ve got a lot of nice illustrations
by Momaday’s father there.>>Dr. Veile: Yeah. Al Momaday was an artist
who was a rough contemporary, a little bit later, than the Kiowa Five.>>Dr. Nelson: Okay.>>Dr. Veile: And traditional Indian art owes
itself a great deal to the Kiowa Five, and the images in the book are ink, black ink
images and they have what the takeaway from the Kiowa Five is the symmetry and the spare
lines, the sense of line–>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: –the absolutely no background.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: It’s always a picture with no
background.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: And I think they fit very well
with the text.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Normally pictures in a book are
a distraction. Now they don’t, they had them when I was a kid, but N.C. Wyeth would draw
a picture of Odysseus or something.>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh, right.>>Dr. Veile: But it was always a distraction,
you know.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: You’d have pictured in your mind
of what he looked like and then in the illustration he had blonde hair. You know–>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: –and you’d thought of him as
dark.>>Dr. Nelson: Right. Yeah, these seem much
more evocative.>>Dr. Veile: Yes.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: Yes, they certainly do.>>Dr. Nelson: And it looks like this is a
similar strategy that Momaday has taken up lately, like “In the Bear’s House.” It looks
like he’s now doing some of his own–>>Dr. Veile: He is, however his art is very
different from his father’s.>>Dr. Nelson: Mmhmm.>>Dr. Veile: Even when it’s pen and ink, or
ink, if you notice it’s kind of a post-modern grotesquerie–>>Dr. Nelson: Uh huh.>>Dr. Veile: –the picture of the bear.>>Dr. Nelson: Right.>>Dr. Veile: Or his pictures are very much
in tune with a modern Indian sensibility, but not the old traditional Oklahoma Kiowa
Five.>>Dr. Nelson: Right. Yeah, you’re absolutely
right. There’s a little bit of playfulness but you’re right, grotesque does very accurately
describe what we’re seeing there. Do you suppose that owes, owes a little bit to Scholder’s
work? I know you’ve been writing about Fritz Scholder.>>Dr. Veile: Yes, yes. I think it does very
much.>>Dr. Nelson: Huh.

One Reply to “Native Peoples of Oklahoma – Literary Traditions – 5.0.3 The Way to Rainy Mountain”

  1. I am touched and moved by all of Scott Momaday's writing, for me he's such a profound writer and speaker. I have such a personal connection and feel for his writing in "The Way To Rainy Mountain", for I too am a Kiowa tribal member, we have and share the same Kiowa Indian name. I grew up in the area where he reminisces his time with his grandmother. In his describing her being and the lay of the country it's like I'm right there in his writings, it's so surreal in his descriptions to me, I love it. In the story of the old man shooting an enemy through the wall of the teepee, in my imagination, this had to of been a story that truly happened in time and was passed down for generations. My freshman year at OU, my graduate instructor used this book as one of our reading requirements, essay writings and class discussion.

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