Eric Gansworth’s A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function has been chosen for the National Book Critics Circle Suggested Spring "Good Reads" list for Poetry.
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Echoing the muscular rhythms of the heartbeat, the poems in this stunning collection alternate between contraction and expansion. Eric Gansworth explores the act of enduring: physically, historically, and culturally. A member of the Haudenosaunee, Gansworth expresses the tensions experienced by members of a marginalized culture struggling to maintain tradition within a much larger dominant culture.
With equal measures of humor, wisdom, poignancy, and beauty, Gansworth’s poems mine the infinite varieties of individual and collective loss and recovery. Seventeen paintings complement his poetry, creating a dialogue between word and image steeped in the tradition of the Haudenosaunee’s mythic world. A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function is the most recent addition to Gansworth’s remarkable body of work chronicling the lives of upstate New York’s Indian communities.
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Eric Gansworth is professor of English and Lowery Writer-in-Residence at Canisius College, Buffalo, N.Y. A member of the Onondaga Nation, he is the author of three novels, Mending Skins (PEN Oakland Award), Indian Summers, and Smoke Dancing; a book of poems, Nickel Eclipse: Iroquois Moon, and a cross-genre volume, Breathing the Monster Alive.
6 x 9, 144 pages, 17 illustrations
"I used to think/ that if I loved hard/ enough and long enough/ passion would always win out,’ begins the title poem of Canisius College English professor and Lowery Writer-in-Residence Eric Gansworth’s new collection of 46 poems and 17 paintings A Half-Life of Cardio-Pulmonary Function (Syracuse University Press). If romanticism is the hallmark of the younger artist, responsibility is the obligation of the mature one, particularly an artist of Native American heritage.
‘To wake your voice/ you must remember/ every letter, syllable,/ word, phrase, clause,/ sentence, paragraph,’ Gansworth writes in ’Learning to Speak’:
what comes next
are the fragments
the pieces left
where memory fails...
giving you softer versions
of your life
...therein lies the danger
born of responsibility,
the duty to remember...
Gansworth, an enrolled member of the Onondaga Nation who was born and raised on the Tuscarora Indian Nation near Lewiston, is Western New York’s most prolific indigenous artist and writer, and an increasingly prominent voice on the national scene. In less than a decade, he has published three novels (including Mending Skins, winner of the 2006 PEN Oakland—Josephine Miles Award) and three collections of poems, with each volume staking out a more ambitious and fully-realized vision of the predicament of indigenous peoples living both on and off the reservation. In September of 2007, Nation Books published Sovereign Bones, an anthology of new Native American writing edited by Gansworth.
In his introduction, Gansworth explains that A Half-Life Cardio-Pulmonary Function represents the amalgam of two seemingly disparate themes in his work. The first is his continuing exploration of ’the ways in which contemporary indigenous peoples navigate a long-standing traditional culture and at the same time embrace [American] popular culture.’ The second, more problematic theme resides in the images and metaphors we employ to cope with personal tragedy and loss, specifically the sudden and unexpected death of the author’s oldest brother in 2000.
Gansworth’s interest in electroencephalography—the technical study of brainwaves—in which he once earned an associates degree provides him a model of parallelism between the physical and emotional worlds that govern his creative process, leading him to the realization that what once seemed like two separate books were both ultimately about the same thing, ’the endurance of living a divided life, one that would not get any less so the older I got but instead would house a broader and more complex divide.’ He reaches a similar accommodation in his paintings, using only purple and white—the colors of the beads on the wampum belts that his Haudenosaunee ancestors created to express cultural ideas and create exchange value—in what he describes as ’Indigenous Binary Code.’
Gansworth’s strength as a poet is primarily narrative rather than lyrical—a fact he acknowledges by employing short, sturdy lines, rhythms that convey vernacular speech patterns, and a naturalistic approach to poetic form. In the finest poems in this collection—’Dreamcatcher,’ ’Where the Dawes Act Finds Its Voice,’ and particularly the sequence of poems titled ’How to Make a Cornhusk Doll’ that concludes each section of book—he attains a voice that is not ’confessional’ in the ordinary sense, but speaks to what is both ’personal’ and universal in the expression of the storyteller, the troubadour, the chronicler, and scribe."
—The Buffalo News