[BOOK REVIEW] Glenn Westerman’s book of poetry, “Songs, Blood Deep”, takes readers on a poetic journey through the seasons

COVER ART. The cover of Songs, Blood deep illustrates a scene of a bunny smoking a pipe and a person playing the flute wearing traditional clothing.
COVER ART. The cover of Songs, Blood deep illustrates a scene of a bunny smoking a pipe and a person playing the flute wearing traditional clothing.
Lucy Thomas

“Songs, Blood Deep” is a rare, insightful book of poetry that takes a reader on a journey through years and seasons. Gwen Nell Westerman is a masterful storyteller who weaves English and Dakota languages together to share stories spanning generations. Her poetry is both gentle and profound, drawing readers in with its lyrical beauty and deep insights. The organization of her book, divided into seasons, allows readers to accompany her on a deeply personal journey through life. Whether you’re a poetry enthusiast or simply looking for a captivating read, Westerman’s work will surely leave a lasting impression.

The book begins in the fall with: “My grandma told me/ that her grandma told her,/ that her grandma told her.” The author shares the struggle for acceptance among her peers and her longing for belonging. Burial of umbilical cords, connection to the land. She felt like she didn’t belong here, why she left home, why she brought a picture of Minnesota.

In winter, the author reflects on her past and the importance of storytelling. Her grandma is a recurring theme in the poems, and she shares her experiences of loss and remembers her loved ones. “A grandma’s birthday today–/ 100 years today, already gone twenty.” she writes in the poem November 16.

Spring is a season of hope and new beginnings, and its poems reflect this sentiment. One such poem, Westerman, moves away from her grandmother’s story and shines the spotlight on her own experiences with a hopeful tone: “At dawn, I awoke. I awoke/ to the sound of bird songs.” She describes waking up at dawn to the sweet melodies of birds, and some of her poems incorporate the Dakota language while others are a blend of both English and Dakota. These elements add depth and richness to her work, making it a joy to read.

In the final chapter, Summer, the focus is on permanence. She shares the loss of her grandmother before she was born and songs of remembrance and appreciation. Her grandma’s stories are made permanent, and the tradition is carried on through the musical poems. “We must hold onto our beds/ hold onto our quilts/ and hold onto our dreams,” is written in a poem titled A Place for Dreams referencing the present, past, and place of permanence in the future.

The collection illustrates the changes made within Westerman’s life, and descriptions bring life to her characters. Westerman is the Poet Laureate of Minnesota and has written Follow the Blackbirds (2013). Other work she has done is New Poets of Native Nations: 21 Poets for the 21st Century; When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry (2020). As a critically acclaimed author, Westerman’s work stands as a testament to the enduring power of poetry to bridge the past, present, and future and brings attention to the stories of her family.

Timeline creator

AWARD-WINNING. This timeline illustrates several of Glen Westerman’s awards and achievements throughout her career. (Nora McKoy)

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