Carolyn Dunn, Outfoxing Coyote (That Painted Horse Press, 2001)

Carolyn Dunn is a poet. To some that means, "a person who writes poems."  To me, a better definition of what a poet does is provided by Paula Gunn Allen in the introduction to Dunn's Outfoxing Coyote: ...We need poets to serve as guides; to bring our awareness from the caverns of deeply enchanted trance to the clarity of consciousness of how deeply mysterious life  is.

In Outfoxing Coyote Carolyn Dunn brings us a collection of her very finely crafted poetry, which does indeed put me in mind of "the caverns of deeply enchanted trance." Dunn uses the mythology of her Native American heritage (Dunn is Creek, Cherokee, and Seminole) to weave pictures of her life as a Native American, a woman, and a Native American woman in modern America.

The poetry itself is beautifully written. Dunn uses free verse, sometimes sliding into rhythms that (intentionally I'm sure) resemble Native American dance steps weaving in and out, repeating, twisting back and forth and all around. Rich, sensual words (skin, teeth, tongue, breath) recur in poem after poem, revealing a deep knowledge of the affect of language on the senses. Dunn is a poet who has obviously studied her craft closely and diligently.

Here
where my heart
is a hard, uncracked crimson stone
and dark, sweet thick red
that no light
can shine through.

A smile,
You won't crack
that stone,
Coyote,
because I won't let you.
Rocks being dropped
from high places
don't always crack
or even break.
I don't know what
the red stone means anymore,
or why it's a stone,
but I do know
that you think
you know
the rest
of the story.

From "Outfoxing Coyote"

Some of these poems touched me deeply. "We Are At War," "Outfoxing Coyote," "Coyotesse," "Gemini"...amazing. Lovely poems filled with powerful images, these are among the best in the collection. I was disturbed, though, by how much less the rest of Outfoxing Coyote resonated with me.

I was especially bothered by the overall feeling of gloom present here.  Dunn repeats and reweaves certain words continuously throughout the poems that make up this volume: blood, pain, crimson, red, tears, rage, burn, ash, brittle, fragile, cracked, darkness. Such words so relentlessly and ceaselessly repeated can be enormously potent, or can begin to blur together and become merely a conceit, a gimmick if you will. Much of Outfoxing Coyote falls somewhere in between these two extremes, but I found it a struggle on occasion to sift out the tale of each poem from the underlying sense of anger present even in some of the lighter pieces.

On a purely technical note, this volume could have been a more enjoyable read had it been proofed more meticulously. I found the numerous typographical errors quite distracting.

In the end, while I enjoyed this book and was immensely impressed by Dunn, I'm afraid that I was never quite enchanted by Outfoxing Coyote.
 

[Maria Nutick]