Edited by David Brundage and Canada Reads Finalist Tracey Lindberg,
Daniel David Moses: Spoken and Written Explorations of His Work (Guernica Editions) is a collection of engaging and thoughtful analytical essays, narratives, and dialogues about the work of the storied playwright, poet, editor, and essayist's career. Moses also contributes work to the book.
To understand Moses’ claim that Delicate Bodies is grounded in the “particular stories of Native people” requires a view of Native people that goes beyond “obvious markers.” This is a view that Canadian mainstream society rarely takes; most Canadians are aware of only a few, well-publicized, aspects of a few Aboriginal communities. Aboriginal oppression, social problems, and political resistance are familiar from the nightly news.
The most widely recognized cultural images come from Plains culture—medicine wheels, tipis, buffalo—or from the North—Inukshuks, dog sleds, birch bark canoes. None of these easily readable signs show up in Delicate Bodies, which is no surprise, since Moses is Delaware [and also has relations among the Tuscarora, Mohawk, and Cayuga, three of the six Iroquois nations] from Six Nations Reserve in Southern Ontario (Moses “Daniel” 211). The poetry in Delicate Bodies grows out of this particular heritage. In particular, the ways in which Moses depicts living things can be seen as influenced by the Delaware and Iroquois agricultural traditions.
Moses grew up on a farm near the Grand River on Six Nations. His people, the Delaware, are part of the large Algonquian family of nations, but are a little-known First Nation in Canada. They originated in what is now the eastern United States, but were forced by the arriving Europeans to repeatedly migrate. The Delaware of Six Nations Reserve are descended from a small number of Delaware who sought refuge among the Cayuga people (an Iroquois nation) (Young 88). Both the Delaware and the Iroquois were traditionally agricultural peoples, with their main traditional crops being corn, beans, and squash. As a small minority on the Six Nations Reserve (they are not one of the Six), the Delaware have been heavily influenced by Iroquois traditional spirituality.
Considering his upbringing on a farm and his people’s agricultural heritage, it is not surprising that Moses’ poetry overflows with images of soil, water, and plants. In Delicate Bodies, fields of crops, vegetable gardens, and orchards abound. These are not images that most Canadians associate with Aboriginal culture. In fact, in conversations about this essay, I have found that many people consider the idea of an Aboriginal farmer to be very surprising. And yet, the Delaware and the Iroquois have been farmers since long before colonization, and agriculture has shaped their spirituality and worldview.
- by Kristina Fagan Bidwell
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Daniel David Moses is a registered Delaware Indian from the Six Nations Reserve in southern Ontario, Canada. He holds an Honours B. A. in General Fine Arts from York University and an M. F. A. in Creative Writing from U. B. C. His plays include Coyote City —a 1991 Governor General’s Award Drama nominee— Almighty Voice and His Wifeand Songs of Love and Medicine. His poetry collections are Delicate Bodies, The White Line, Sixteen Jesuses and ‘A Small Essay of the Largeness of Light’ and Other Poems. He co-edited An Anthology of Canadian Native Literature in English, the fourth and twentieth anniversary edition of which appears in 2012. His recent publications are Pursued by a Bear, Talks, Monologues and Tales, essays, Kyotopolis, a play in two acts, and River Range, Poems, a CD with original music by David Deleary. His honours include a James Buller Memorial Award (for The Indian Medicine Shows), the Harbourfront Festival Prize, a Chalmers Fellowship and the Ontario aboriginal arts award. He is a professor of playwrighting in the Dan School of Drama and Music at Queen’s University, Kingston, Ontario, and a member of the Royal Society of Canada.
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