April 12, 2012


Poet Abena Songbird, webmaster Derek Wilson *collaborated with the Native American Cultural Center of San Francisco to produce “Round Dance,” a group poem instigated on the Web among Native American poets, visual artists and writers. Abena, as lead poet, crafted the final 21 page poem. Their process synthesized with a live poetry jam. At the project’s culmination, they published a CD-ROM incorporating more than 50 different Native artists and poets’ images, including paintings, recorded music tracks, and video clips of the live performances, along with the finished written poem. Media artist Derek Wilson collaborated with the poet and Center on design and technical aspects of the project. Derek also contributed a piece to the poem.

“Round Dance” was created through a “round robin” of poetry on an on-line bulletin board was initially housed on the Native American Cultural Center’s web site. Initially 15 Native American writers of varying background and experience were invited to participate: as the project progressed, Songbird contacted 300 Native artists by e-mail. Through the spontaneous, improvisational nature of the process, others were able (and welcome) to contribute. The series of poems began with inspiration from Abena Songbird’s collection Bitterroot, (Freedom Voices Press 2001) which is dedicated “to indigenous people of Mother Earth living in recovery.” As the project web site was launched on September 10, 2001, the poem’s theme became a Native expression of sadness and frustration at the onset of war. Its structure developed around the theme of the four directions.

While the process began in the Bay Area, the round robin quickly traveled around the country: The Web enabled Native artists to participate whether they lived in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley, or in a remote Minnesota reservation, even if they were confined in prison or in a hospital. The lead artist writes, [I’ve] never been part of a larger, group work where multi-submissions by a diverse tribal representation from across Indian country lent their heart/voice (cross-generation) to a group poem—a dance so to speak—that became as a prayer during extremely challenging times…. (With a generous grant from the Creative Work Fund,S.F.


RoundDance is:
Your voice – Native youth – both urban and reservation
A chance to sing, cry, chant, shout your life to the larger world through this electric web
Native brothers and sisters: Two-stepping
Twelve-stepping, Red Roading. From beyond these imaginary or imposed borders: behind iron bars, in recovery from addictions ( First Nations, Central & South American, metis, mestizo, everybody dance!)
Native poets and songwriters – your experience and strength of craft
Native artists – let the poem inspire your image

RoundDance is:
Dealing with daily challenges of spirit – from the urban streets – the reservation roads and powwow trails
A chance to dance together in word, rhythm, rap and rhythm
a song in poetry to weave a greater voice – a tighter braid

My voice is theirs
comes in whispers
One Wail Rising

Northern drum
traditional swelling song
hair-raising tremors
lifting over groves of birch and pine
A flutter of wings
The heart flies dreaming*.

-excerpt from “Bitterroot”
s © 2000 Abena Songbird