Poetry Review — Bear, Coyote, Raven


Bear, Coyote, Raven by Jason Grundstrum-Whitney is a collection of Native American inspired poetry.  Grundstrom-Whitney, a Bear Clan member of the Passamaquoddy Tribe, has worked on several causes, including Native American rights. Jason has worked as a substance abuse counselor and a specialist at the Riverview Psychiatric Hospital in Augusta, Maine.

In Native American folklore, animals have active traditional roles.   The Coyote is perhaps the most well known in his role as the trickster.  The bear has a more complex and varied role.  Sometimes the enforcer.  Sometimes bumbling. Other times the straight man for the more clever animals.  Female bears’ reputation lives on in contemporary as the protective “Mama Bear.” The Raven is perhaps the most complex.  He is a helper and also a trickster. His plans are frivolous or not well thought out and often create other problems.  Characters in this collection shift from animal to human form and back and examine the modern world.

The collection opens with an introduction to the three characters.  The bear is introduced with something reminiscent of an earlier time and his form in the night sky as Ursa Major.  The Coyote, although not in the sky, walks against the backdrop of the Milky Way and longs for the faraway Moon Spirit.  The Raven has is own problems avoiding gunshots and airplanes in his flight. He also must overcome his growing girth.  It is the modern world as the raven shows, and so much is different from the past.  Technology is present. Sometimes it is barely noticeable as birds gathering on a telephone wire to bothersome buzzing and humming. What seems useful in modern times also has its downside as the Coyote thinks, why hunt and search for food when there is a dumpster buffet? He finds plenty of food; however, when the monster (garbage truck) comes, lifts, and consumes the contents of the dumpster, it then sets the dumpster down on the Coyote’s tail.

There is also wisdom for the reader:

Medicine is not something
that can be attained on a couch
watching the history channel.
Sometimes you have
to be hungry.

Grundstrum-Whitney introduces the reader to three characters of the Native American mythology, not as the used to be, but dropped into today’s world of violence, nature’s struggle against man, and lack of empathy.  The poetry is different and even different from other Native American poets.  There seems to be a conservation of words, rhythm, and form.   It is a bit primitive in the modern world, but also purer.  Bear, Coyote, Raven is a pleasant blend of cultures with lessons to be learned.




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