Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock What the Critics Say

Blood Run

Blood Run
Copyright © 2006
by Allison Hedge Coke
Salt Publishing
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If William Blake were a twenty-first-century American Indian woman, he would be Hedge Coke. Like Blake declaiming against soul-destroying "dark Satanic mills," Hedge Coke calls for us to recognize the sanctity of ancestral land and to protect it, for "no human should dismantle prayer." The specific land of which she speaks is a vast city built on the border of what is now Iowa and South Dakota. Home to as many as 10,000 people, it is now partially obliterated by plows and desecrated by looters. In a series of dramatic monologues, Hedge Coke animates the landscape and, indeed, the cosmos. Corn speaks, and various mounds; the river speaks, and deer and stone. Even the looters speak, as do the skeletons they remove for sale to medical schools. Blood Run is the setting for this long, dramatic sequence of poems, but its subject is really the need to resanctify the world. The poet's voice is oracular, deliberately disturbing and demanding. Hedge Coke's visionary long conclusion, "When the Animals Leave This Place," defines the transformation of Earth that follows disasters and offers a sensuous solace as well as a frightening prediction of what we may face as ecological change accelerates. — Booklist
Dog Road Woman
Copyright © 1997
by Allison Hedge Coke
Coffee House Press
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In her debut collection of poems, which received the American Book Award in 1998, Allison Adelle Hedge Coke presents an autobiographical sketch of a contemporary mixed-blood native life. These poems recount surviving diaspora, domestic violence, racism, and an extraordinary number of challenges. By drawing upon a variety of poetic and prosaic forms, Hedge Coke simulates and transforms the rhythms and sounds of her people. She weaves the shapes and patterns of her heritage into a magnificent tapestry of prayer, story, and song. Dog Road Woman is a sublime presentation of the strength, beauty, and spirit of the nations. — from the publisher

Off-Season City Pipe
Copyright © 2005
by Allison Hedge Coke
Coffee House Press
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In poems as beautiful in their telling as they are powerful in their ethos, poet and memoirist Hedge Coke draws upon her background as a tobacco sharecropper, factory worker and fisherwoman, articulating the stark contrast between a tradition of labor that instills pride and builds strong communities with the modern-day reality of backbreaking work that fails to provide sustenance for the land or its people. — from the pubisher

Hedge Coke's reputation rests on her memoirs concerned with her Native American heritage, such as the searing and memorable Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer. Here she reveals another identity, as a poet of the American worker — "cracker-packin' girls" and "fieldworkers and framers like me" — in long-lined, conversational poems full of southern swing and storytelling zest. She captures the lives of people struggling, sometimes failing like the zoned-out man in the Mission District who needs a "Houdini mentality to stand," but also exulting in their strength, like the women who, "double-handed / popping apart plump green strings / fresh from leafy hills," can pint after pint of produce. Though informed by the history of Indian struggle, the poems are set more in the city than on the reservation, in places "the BIA forgot to watch." Anyone interested in the often silenced voices of America's working poor will appreciate these poems. — Booklist

Hedge Coke unites American working-class experience with her Cherokee heritage in a sinewy lyricism where exhaustion co-exists with the exultant. — The Pulse of the Twin Cities, May 12, 2005

Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer
Copyright © 2004
by Allison Hedge Coke
University of Nebraska Press
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"A name creates life patterns," Allison Adelle Hedge Coke writes, "which form and shape a life; my life, like my name, must have been formed many times over then handed to me to realize." Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer is Hedge Coke's narrative of that realization, the poet and writer's searching account of her life as a mixed-blood woman coming of age off-reservation, yet deeply immersed in her Cherokee and Huron heritage. In a style at once elliptical and achingly clear, Hedge Coke describes her schizophrenic mother and the abuse that often overshadowed her childhood; the torments visited upon her, the rape and physical violence; and those she inflicted on herself, the alcohol and drug abuse. Yet she managed to survive with her dreams and her will, her sense of wonder and promise undiminished." The title Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer refers to the life-revelations that brought Hedge Coke through her trials, the melding of language and experience that has brought order to her life. In this book, Hedge Coke shares the insights she has gathered along the way, insights that touch on broader Native issues such as modern life in the diaspora; the threat of alcohol, drug abuse, and violence; and the ongoing onslaught on self amid a complex, mixed heritage. — from the publisher

What I've always admired about Allison Hedge Coke's poetry is her astounding courage. And the ability to seamlessly weave the tobacco fields of childhood with the stark plains and hills of South Dakota. And more than all that — the shining spirit of compassion. — Joy Harjo

Telling is one thing. That's what we do when we tell stories. But coming to know by experience and telling about it is another. Allison Hedge Coke in Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer shows us "knowing" in her unique and wonderful way. — Simon J Ortiz

This is a harrowing book. Statistics about alcoholism and family violence among dispossessed American Indians fail to show the sheer human suffering it causes and the personal heroism of those who struggle through to an integrated life. Hedge Coke was endowed by her Cherokee father with insights into the Indian way of life, but the pressures of prejudice and her mother's insanity drove her into years of drug and alcohol abuse as well as into abusive relationships. She writes in a stately, unashamed manner of beatings and binges, always connecting her personal sufferings to the larger questions of how Indian people can reclaim their cultural and personal pride and authority. A tragic loss ends the book's story, but far from making it a tale of failure, this final death confirms, through Hedge Coke's presentation, her growth into a profound witness to Indian culture and its deep-rooted spiritual and philosophical values. — Booklist

Razor-sharp. — Chris Rubich, Billings Gazette

This book has the ability to open eyes, and to provide freedom on a deep and pesonal level through the glory of truth, which is a beautiful thing no matter how shocking its origins. Rock, Ghost, Willow, Deer is one read that you will not forget. — Diane Zephier, Quiet Mountain Essays

An extraordinary story of survival, compassion, courage, and a balanced comprehension of acceptance and the will to live. — Maggie Necefer, Multicultural Review

It is through her lush yet controlled use of language that Hedge Coke successfully creates a narrative of both personal and cultural history. ... She is often unflinchingly succinct in her telling of some painful event, and other times, especially when describing moments when she is close to death, she offers us lyric gems. ... She travels like a liminal being, moving fluidly across boundaries between prose and poetry, dream and reality, myth and history, animal and human, the personal and political. — Fourth Genre

Coke's childhood and young adult years as recounted in this gritty and courageous memoir are not only a story of survival but a story of strength. — Campbell

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