Review By: Philip Burnham, Indian Country Today - May 28, 2008
'Lines from a Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudell'
John Trudell, Santee Sioux, is a radical and a traditionalist all rolled into one. He's an outspoken political activist. He's a poet in the old tradition: he chants, he warns, he tells, he sings. And it all has the feel of being spontaneous, of coming off effortlessly as he speaks.
Fulcrum Publishing has just released ''Lines from a Mined Mind: The Words of John Trudell,'' a collection of poems and lyrics that spans the last 25 years. For anyone who has admired Trudell's career, whether in politics, music or film, it's worth a read.
Trudell is no stranger to the spotlight. He was a leader of the Alcatraz Island occupation that began in 1969 and chairman of the American Indian Movement through much of the 1970s. He was also involved with the 1972 occupation of the BIA building in Washington and the standoff at Wounded Knee II less than a year later.
A family tragedy, though, is at the center of this book and that caused Trudell's emergence as an artist.
Under intense observation by the FBI during the 1970s, Trudell is said to have had a dossier in the bureau amounting to 17,000 pages. In 1979, in full protest mode, he set fire to an American flag on the steps of the FBI building in Washington.
Within 24 hours of that incident, his wife, mother-in-law and three children perished in a house fire in Nevada, an ''accident'' alleged by Trudell to have been caused by the government. That disaster is what set him to writing, and is the real starting point of ''Lines,'' the first collection of his work.
After losing his family, Trudell sought an outlet for expression that politics couldn't provide. In the early 1980s, he began putting his poetry to music. Since then, he's recorded nearly a dozen albums, including several with Kiowa guitarist Jesse Ed Davis, before his untimely death in 1988, and earned the praise of such luminaries as Jackson Browne and Kris Kristofferson.
''Lines'' is an ambitious book, laying out a biting critique of contemporary materialism while it offers the consoling virtues of family, love and the healing powers of the earth.
Trudell's technique is simple. He relies on occasional rhyme and lots of repeated phrasing. The lines flow without punctuation; the phrases assemble themselves on the page like free-form images with easy, swaying conviction.
The lines gain force through repetition, piling up one on top of another. What seems rambling at first turns out to be a rolling kind of momentum that doesn't stop as long as there's another page to turn.
The poet moves from tender love poems, to critiques against the ''Great Programming'' of modern life, to a sad and moving account of the moment he learned of his family's death.
Most of these are song lyrics rather than poems, a reminder of poetry's musical roots in many traditions. In the pulsing rhythm of heartbeat, poetry was recited and sung to the accompaniment of music, usually by keepers of memory entrusted with the history of the tribe.
In fact, there's something of an echo of the Old Testament prophet in Trudell, who makes it a point to call down the wicked influence of ''Babylon'' on many of these pages. His spirit is a mix of patient tradition and a rebellious impulse to rid the world of evil.
The subject of a recent documentary, Trudell has an instinct for the spotlight. In addition to his music and poetry, moviegoers have seen him in ''Thunderheart,'' ''Smoke Signals'' and ''On Deadly Ground.'' He advised Robert Redford on ''Incident at Oglala,'' a documentary about the FBI shootout on Pine Ridge. Acting and performing have become his life, and he'll be touring soon to promote this collection.
In a brief forward, Louise Erdrich asks readers to give in to the force of passion in Trudell and submit to the urgency of his words, just to let go and follow the songs where they take them.
The only thing ''Lines'' really lacks is music. First penned as lyrics, the ''poems'' can't be heard in their original setting, accompanied by a thumping drum or a slashing guitar riff.
Readers will just have to use a little imagination.
Review By: Gerry Weaver, Blogcritics Magazine - August 3, 2008
Book Review: Lines From a Mined Mind - The Words of John Trudell
John Trudell has released through Fulcrum Publishing an anthology of his poetry from his 25-year recording career and it is a powerful moving read from a man who has a lot to say on the state of the world and how we relate to each other. Mr. Trudell, a Santee Sioux, is a well known Native activist, and much of his poetry draws on Native imagery and concerns, but he is also interested in drawing parallels to oppression whereever and however it is experienced. His message focuses on healing, searching for inclusion rather than exclusion of viewpoints. Lines From a Mined Mind blends a delicate lyricism with passionate political criticism and left me determined to hear Mr. Trudell perform the poetry as the songs they were created to be.
Trudell’s style is to tell his truths simply and sincerely, mixing different visions and voices as he moves from very personal stories to hard political commentary. His insight is based on a life of activism laced with personal tragedy. He was spokesperson for the Indian of All Tribes occupation of Alcatraz Island from 1969 to 1971 and Chairman of the American Indian Movement (AIM) from 1973 to 1979. In 1979, Trudell’s wife, three children and mother-in-law were killed in a fire of unknown origin and it was this tragedy that compelled the artist to find his voice.
The book opens with “Listening,” an excerpt of which lays out the spirit of Trudell’s philosophy:
The Power of Understanding
Real connections to spirit
Is meaning our resistance
Is not sacrifice lost
Natural energy properly used
To Trudell, we all need to engage in the definition of our culture and our mores, rather than leaving it to those who benefit from exploitation. This shared responsibility to speak up would lead to a feeling of connection to each other and to nature, something the poet feels has been increasingly lost in our materially-based culture.
Trudell’s own voice shifts from gentle lyricism in a song like “Brown Earth Color Woman” (“When I step into the brown of her eyes / Brown Earth Color Woman / Takes me into the secret of her sighs / Gentling me in a balance of passion”) to the anger and pain found in “But This Isn’t El Salvador”:
They told me you were dead
They told me your mother was dead
I died again
They told me the kids were dead
I died with each name
The poet can move from a smoldering critique of materialism in “Material Junkies” and of the politics of war in “Arms Race” to the poignant sweetness of “Little Daughter,” and the different narrative voices keep the material fresh and engaging.
Trudell mines myth and fable, from Mother Goose and the Brothers Grimm to Native imagery, to craft his potent visions and weave a very personal moving commentary on what’s gone wrong in modern society. These are protest songs delivered honestly and they work.
The artist began recording his poems to music in 1982 and has released eight albums, many made with legendary Kiowa guitarist, Jesse Ed Davis. The albums mix rock, blues, traditional indigenous music, and folk to produce an eclectic mix of protest music. Rolling Stone’s assessment of 1992’s AKA The Grafitti Man was that it was a “moving, shape-shifting, rock & roll treatise on the state of the world.” Having read Lines From a Mined Mind, I’m ready to track down the original recordings to savour the full effect of Trudell’s poetry. However, the words have their own power and I recommend this collection wholeheartedly to anyone interested in Trudell’s artistry and politics.
Review By: Shelli Carlisle, Boomer Style Books - June 4, 2009
"... I am in awe of the gift entrusted to a few chosen souls to weave a tale in such a way that leaves the reader to ponder the precept; never quite sure if the writers intention is the reader's understanding.
And, so, Trudell’s passionate Lines from a Mined Mind will ignite a legion of ideas, feelings, questions, and desires. I highly recommend this book. It is a gift for the senses."