Mark Turcotte: Songs for the Endless Others

Mark TurcottePoet Mark Turcotte (b. 1958) spent his earliest years on North Dakota’s Turtle Mountain reservation and in several migrant camps in the western U.S.  Drawn to Chicago in 1993, partly because of the city’s thriving poetry scene, he established himself as a unique voice among Chicago poets and also worked at the Chicago Historical Society.  He won the first Gwendolyn Brooks Open-Mic Award in 1993, and among many honors and grants received the  2001-2002 Lannan Foundation Literary Completion Grant, and the 1999 and 2003 Literary Fellowships from the Wisconsin Arts Board. He also worked at the Wind River Indian Reservation of Wyoming on a National Book Foundation American Voices assignment

Turcotte is author of The Feathered Heart (1998), Songs of Our Ancestors (1995), Road Noise (a chapbook, 1998) and Le Chant de la Route (2001). His collection Exploding Chippewas (2002) is in its third printing. His work has appeared in many publications, including LUNA, TriQuarterly, POETRY, Prairie Schooner, and Ploughshares, and has four times been nominated for Pushcart Prizes.  More recently he has also published short stories in Rosebud and Hunger Mountain.  One of his poems, “The Flower On,” has even appeared on poetry placards on public transportation in cities across the United States as part of the Poetry Society of America’s Poetry In Motion project.

In my book (with David Starkey) Smokestacks and Skyscrapers: An Anthology of Chicago Writing, I included two poems from The Feathered Heart: “Horse and Cradle” and “Song for the Endless Others.”  They illustrate Turcotte’s unusual, innovative blending in both theme and language of Native American culture with notions of whiteness and with urban landscapes.  A mixed-blood Chippewa, Turcotte’s most popular poem is probably “Exploding Chippewas” followed by “Horse and Cradle,” where he celebrated his mother and father.  It begins: “she white woman fell /  in love with the / black wave / of his hair….”  And “Song for the Endless Others” contains one of my favorite evocations of urban Native American life: “i see the endless others / sparkling blue beneath the El / as they laugh / and as they dance / across the station walls / train to train / out into the streets to tangle / up the taxis in their hair….”

Turcotte holds an MFA from Western Michigan University.  He served as the 2008-2009 Visiting Native Writer at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and is Visiting Assistant Professor in Creative Writing at DePaul University.  He has read his work from Boston to Santa Fe to Fargo to Montepellier, France, and currently lives and works out of Chicago and Kalamazoo.

 Go to a list of Chicago Writers and to a list of Black Writers, most from Chicago.

 Go to Smokestacks and Skyscrapers, where you can also BUY the book.

 Go to the TEACHING DIVERSITY main page.


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Remembering Julian Bond

BondJulian Bond (b. 1940) passed away this past August 15, 2015.  He led an extraordinary life of  service, especially in the cause of Civil Rights: one of the founders of SNCC (The Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee), first president of the Southern Poverty Law Center, president of the NAACP for a dozen years, four terms as a Georgia State Legislator during historic times, narrator of Eyes on the Prize, distinguished professor of history at the University of Virginia….  At the 1968 Democratic National Convention he became the first African American nominated to a Presidential ticket, though he quickly declined, reminding everyone the Constitution set a minimum age of 35.  He was only 28.

He also loved Ray Charles.  That was the special personal bond I had with him.  On those few occasions we met, we always wound up talking about Ray.

Bond-MLKIt was some time in the mid-80′s.  As the head of the Cultural Events Committee at my college, I had helped bring many black speakers to campus, and one of them must not have gone over well.  Too unpolished, perhaps too radical?  ”Next time,” the president of the Black Students Association said to me, “could we invite someone more, ah…sophisticated?”

The most sophisticated, urbane man I knew was Julian Bond, so I brought him to campus the following year.  Upon arriving, he immediately disarmed our president, saying, “Hello, Sir, I have great feeling for college presidents, as my father was one himself.”  Then he proceeded to give a stem-winder speech, calling Nixon the “man who took us from the moon to My Lai,” castigating America for its lack of honesty and courage, its moral failures—one of which, of course, was its continual dodging of race issues.  The next day, I got a note from a college donor saying we had seen the last of his contributions, “owing to the Commie speakers now being invited to speak.”  Disheartened, I showed the note to a colleague in Religious Studies.  ”We don’t need money from Nazis anyway,” he retorted, lifting my spirits a few degrees.

Charles-VolcanicAs Julian Bond was leaving the previous afternoon, all we did was talk about Ray Charles, and as he ducked into his limo and got seated, he rolled down the window and said, as the limo pulled slowly away, “We’ll have to be careful around some people because, you know, Ray has refused to honor the cultural boycott of South Africa.”

A few years earlier, I had bumped into him and asked him to read a poem he’d written about Ray Charles, a poem Charles put on the back of his 1971 album The Volcanic Action of My Soul.  I recorded his reading and put it on one of the episodes of my radio series Voices and Freedoms, a series based on my book of the same name.  It was program #12, on the move away from Cool Jazz towards a harder, funkier jazz—Hard Bop or Soul Jazz, some called it.  And I took a moment to “get carried away,” I said, talking about my favorite musician, Ray Charles having been one of the most visible stars of that movement.  You can hear Julian Bond reading his poem HERE, near the beginning of  Part 4 in a series of Ray Charles “lectures” I’ve posted to this site.  Here’s the poem below.  It’s part of the back of  the Volcanic Action album. Julian signed it.  ”Remember this?” I said, handing him the signed album some years later.  ”That’s been awhile,” he said wistfully.  Very few accomplished more in their brief whiles on earth.


 Go to the lead Ray Charles post, listing “All Things Ray” on this site.

 Go to the lead episode of “Me and Brother Ray,” a 5-part video “lecture” on Ray Charles.

  Go to Voices and Freedoms: A History of Jazz.  The book was also made into a radio series of the same name. Listen to a radio show excerpt from show #14.  Julian Bond read his Ray Charles poem originally in show #12.

 Go to the Teaching Diversity main page.

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Students with Style

Though we don't actually use this iconic book, we hope my course ENG 265-Style still does it proud.

Though we don’t actually use this iconic book, we hope my course ENG 265-Style still does it proud.

So many different “styles,” depending on what you’re writing and for whom.  Yet in ENG 265 – Style, I’ve tried to define a “standard” style, a style of writing you’d read in some of our greatest publications—The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, Vanity Fair, the Virginia Quarterly, Smithsonian….  These so-called “general interest” magazines or quarterlies, address an intelligent, curious audience, and what they publish features a “style” not only deep with fact and insight, but also with sentences lean, varied, and interesting.   Sentences that move.  It’s real-world writing. People actually read it, and writers get paid for it, as opposed to much of the academic writing we make students do in college.  There we valorize the rational, clear, linear—not necessarily bad all the time, but often dull, and finally not as clear as it could be.  Writing with style, this writing circles, jumps around, suddenly stops and starts, seems random (it’s really not)—just like great conversations with friends, where we hardly ever talk like this: “So-and-So, I’d like to talk to you about three things: 1)…2)…3)….”  We don’t love that.  But often I’ve heard someone say, “I love him. He’s so random.”

In ENG 265-Style, we read the greats—James Baldwin, E.B. White, Wole Soyinka, Edward Hoagland, Junichiro Tanazaki—and the very, very goods—Bonnie Rough, Jeff Lockwood, Jonah Lehrer, Susan Casey—but my students have also produced some of my favorite writing.  I regret I haven’t saved all these pieces over many years of teaching this course, but below are a few of them, given for your pleasure and so my current students can look at samples of what their peers have created.  Many of the pieces below are drafts, but you can see their incipient fineness, their style.  They’re included this way on purpose, so students can see something very important: how things begin.  Sometimes I’ve left my comments in, usually in red, and in one case a comment another student made in the class’s workshopping process.  Enjoy.

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