TUSCON, Ariz. - We have all experienced an itch that can't be scratched. It starts as a prickle, grows almost imperceptibly into a sting and finally becomes a burning irritation that burrows into the brain and drives out all other thoughts. An itch is an insatiable need that drives us to unbelievable lengths to satisfy.
Author Wendy Rose, Hopi/Miwok/mixed-European, aptly named her newest book of poems "Itch Like Crazy." Rose's particular itch is her need to define her cultural identity - a drive to discover the truth behind her mixed heritage and somehow to find a sense of belonging.
"Itch Like Crazy" is the unabashed self-examination of a woman in conflict. A conflict that is as undeniable - and sometimes as infuriating - as a case of poison ivy.
Rose has spent her life in the cracks between worlds. She found herself not Native enough for a tribal affiliation, but not Anglo enough to ignore the whispers of her grandmothers. Rose uses her poetry to explore her sorrow over the misdeeds of her progenitors and her feelings of frustration with modern American society.
Rose was nourished in the bohemian environment of Berkley, Calif. in the '60s and attained her Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of California.
In an essay entitled "Just What's All This Fuss about Whiteshamanism Anyway?" (1984,) Rose said of herself, "I am that most schizophrenic of creatures, an American Indian who is both poet and anthropologist. I have, in fact, a little row of buttons up and down my ribs that [I] can press for the appropriate response: click, I'm an Indian; click, I'm an anthropologist; click, I'll just forget the whole thing and write a poem."
With "Itch Like Crazy" Rose began to sooth her irritation by researching her family tree.
In part of the poem "The Itch: First Notice," Rose wrote, "I am looking for my people. As I find the names I write them down, encasing the letters between the pale blue lines of my ledger, then draw them in the margins, give them wings or hooves or horns, make bloodlines snake from one to another and wonder if the green eyes on paper know they can climb the pen and pierce my veins."
Many of the poems are written as personal letters to the author's long-departed family members. Rose assigns a fragment of her inner turmoil to a family member and explores each facet of the itch by discussing it with them in the present tense.
The lush and evocative imagery of Rose's verse evokes empathy for her distress. She includes 17 family photographs with accompanying biographical data to enable the reader to "put a face to a name."
The 121-page book is part of the Sun Tracks series, a collection of critically acclaimed American Indian poetry and fiction published by The University of Arizona Press.
Wendy Rose is the author of no less than 11 other books and several essays. To learn more about her career and to purchase her work visit www.uapress.arizona.edu, http://voices.cla.umn.edu/authors/wendyrose.html, write to The University of Arizona Press, Tucson, Ariz. 85721, or phone (520) 621-1441.
'Itch Like Crazy' can also be found at Amazon at http://www.amazon.com/exec/obidos/ASIN/0816521778