Chrystos--Native American, lesbian, and political poet--packs a lot of power and fire into this collection. She positions herself against the status quo, whether it exists in hierarchies of economics, academics, race, gender, and sexuality, and her position is evident in content as well as style. For an example of content, some of her titles provide a clue: "Going Into the Prison," "Bitter as the Pockmarked Streets," "The Man Who Had a Lobotomy," "Unsettling Poetry," "Hissing He Called Me a Witch," "Worrying About How to Pay All My Bills," "Why Indian Unemployment is So High," and "Crazy Horse."
As for style, many of her poems read like lineated prose--casual, conversation-like, which I take to be a critique of stylized and elitist language in poetry. Almost all of her poems lack punctuation aside from the occasional comma, creating a murmuring effect reminiscent of Lucille Clifton. My favorite poem of this collection, "Crazy Horse," an apostrophe to Crazy Horse occasioned while ironing a Crazy-Horse-brand shirt, twice omits syntactical markers ("I could dampen this shirt with my tears / I could burn for hours before your name / still not cleanse this hatred" and "Names are sacred / they know that / Their copyright laws hungry with it") for an effect that's emotive, not coolly rational.
Overall, I enjoy the book for its style and its content, and for its "hell yeah!" qualities--for the way that simply articulating some awful stuff is a kind of triumph over oppression. However, I have mixed feelings about the short essay that ends the collection, "Gathering Words." At one point, she writes, "A long time ago, a famous writer told me that my poem 'I Walk in the History of My People' was not poetry because it was too political. I assert that poetry without politics is narcissistic & not useful to us. I also believe that everything is political--there is no neutral, safe place we can hide out in waiting for the brutality to go away." Yes: everything is political, including unconscious habits that enable, reproduce, and perpetuate oppression. (For example, a recent issue of Cosmo provides an example of women sitting back from the table at a business meeting, reluctant to move forward--maintaining a posture of passivity, submission.) But I don't think poetry's first responsibility should be political; poetry's first responsibility should be poetry, craft; after that, let it do whatever it does. Let the audience read the politics into it.