(click book title for a sample)
** Winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize **
Bullet-shattered glass clatters onto his baby bed; he wakes and cries out into darkness. Does he remember this? Or remember being told? Regardless, he feels it, and will feel it again, bomb bay wind buffeting his eighteen-year-old body a mile above an old volcano's jagged debris, and yet again, staring at photos of Korean orphans, huddled homeless in a blizzard after a bombing in which, at twenty-five, he'd refused an order to join. It is through such prisms of the past that Ralph Salisbury's life unfolds, a life that, eighty years in the making, is also the life of the twentieth century. Winner of the River Teeth Literary Nonfiction Prize, So Far, So Good is a sometimes strange, sometimes lyrical, and often humorous attempt by an inveterate storyteller to recount "just things as they were."
The survivor of a lightning strike, car and plane mishaps, explosions, bullets, a heart attack, cancer, and other human afflictions, Salisbury wonders: "Why should anyone read this?" The book itself resoundingly answers this question not merely with its sheer eventfulness but also in the prodigious telling. Salisbury takes us from abject poverty in rural Iowa during the Great Depression, with a half Cherokee father and an Irish American mother, through war and peace and protest to the freedom and solace of university life; and it is in the end (so far) so good.
"An important glimpse into 20th-century Midwestern life, this book will also be an important addition to the canon of Native American literature."
“Ralph Salisbury’s So Far, So Good will take its place beside Scott Momaday’s The Names and Joy Harjo’s Crazy Brave as a major addition to the ever-growing genre of contemporary Native American autobiography.”
—Geary Hobson, author of Plain of Jars and Other Stories
“A Native American, a Vanishing American, Ralph Salisbury writes of a vanishing life, but in this brave and startling memoir, it is the life of a poet-warrior that will never be forgotten.”
—Patty Dann, author of Mermaids
** Finalist, Oregon Book Award **
I'm holding onto history,
someone else's sanity,
after the crash.
Those three lines sum up for me what I have always loved about Ralph Salisbury as a poet—one whose vision has grown stronger with age. Clarity and complexity are as intertwined in his work as is his mixed Cherokee-Shawnee-English-Irish ancestry and his own path as a youthful warrior and a wise elder counseling peace. His words are those of a man struck by lightning, both literally and figuratively, and the sanity that he holds onto and forces us to face, is that of one whose survival is both metaphor and guide for the generations that follow.
—Joseph Bruchac, Breaking Silence (American Book Award), The Boy Who Lived with the Bears (Boston Globe Book Award), Dog People (Paterson Award)
Ralph Salisbury's Like the Sun in Storm is a great eagle-soaring sweep of poetry. In these times of wars and suffering, his poems give powerful voice to that which too many people ignore or are afraid to speak about or are too brainwashed to recognize. Like the Sun in Storm is beautiful, brilliant, true ... an assuaging of a deep homesickness for that which shimmers with honesty and heart wisdom. This Cherokee-Shawnee elder's poems brilliantly distill home and shelter out of the violent complexity of America's and the entire planet's current frightening reality/surreality. Ralph, beloved poet and brother, thank you/nya'weh for this saving poetry.
—Susan Deer Cloud, Poet, NEA & NYFA fellowships recipient, author of Car Stealer and The Last Ceremony
The manifest destiny of these poems is justice and salvation in language for people torn down by blind nationalism, war, greed and racism. As soft as lingerie, as tough as steel pipe, and as fine in phrase and image as our best American poets, Ralph Salisbury sings "Like the Sun in Storm" for a world that can be healed.
—Henry Hughes, Winner: 2012 Gival Press Oscar Wilde Award, author of Moist Meridian and Men Holding Eggs (Oregon Book Award in poetry)
"The poems of this volume make stunningly clear the ways in which Ralph Salisbury continues to model the traditional and modern (postmodern, if you will) roles of the poet as Cherokee humanist and indigenous cosmopolitan."
"Although Ralph Salisbury may refer to himself as "A Killer Seeking Forgiveness," this collection of his new and selected work shows him to be one of the most thoughtful and moral writers of his generation. Without ever sacrificing literary excellence for self-righteousness or eloquence for polemic, Salisbury's memorable poetry reflects not only his long full life and the Cherokee culture that has helped shape his vision, it is also a corrective lens through which we may view anew the story of our American nation."
Salisbury's stories are engaging and unique. He has a distinctive approach to assembling the elements of a narrative. The "facts" might be revealed directly, but they are more likely to emerge in small fragments of illumination, like pieces of a dream.
The men Salisbury describes have been to war, and being "home" — in the States — is sometimes disorienting for them. Most of them think that they need a woman to help them get their bearings. High school football star Cyrus Littlehorse Jones dreams of slipping silky lingerie off the pale white bodies of high school cheerleaders. A Korean War veteran joins a Vietnam War protest so that he can score with a "hippie chick."
Salisbury taps primal emotions — love, passion, anger — but he explores his subjects in unusual ways, like drillers who bore at odd angles to discover pools of oil trapped deep in layers of rock. He excavates the hearts and minds of his characters, mining them to fuel his stories. And his stories are the richer for it — invariably compelling and continually surprising.
"Stories keep us alive. No matter what happens. No matter how one's life goes. No matter how good or bad or funny or absurd. ... Stories are life givers and lifesavers. The proof is in the telling. And in the hearing and reading. Believe me. Read Ralph Salisbury's The Indian Who Bombed Berlin and Other Stories. And you will know."
"Ralph Salisbury has established himself over a long and productive career as a voice of sanity in a world riven by war, racism, and despair. His poems teach us, among other important lessons, the constant need for compassion. We are grateful for his new poems in Blind Pumper at the Well."
"Ralph Salisbury’s Blind Pumper at the Well bears witness to human suffering and to the horrors of war. The poems are generous and kind. Salisbury celebrates the beauty inherent in family, the mysteries of loss, the sadness of the human condition, and through scrupulous reflection, arrives whole, wise, and in the moment. Blind Pumper at the Well is a gift.
"Ralph Salisbury’s poems in this latest volume are witness to his genius for words, witness to his reverence for language, and they show his deep and abiding concern for the human loss in wars and the rumors of war. As an artist, Salisbury is at his best here: time and time again the force of his words is framed in sturdy periodical sentences that hit you smack between the eyes with their crescendoing, image-packed truth."
War in the Genes is a fierce, sweeping collection that brings a deep awareness of Native American history and spirit to the difficult American present. Ralph Salisbury shies away from nothing in his poems — not anger nor indictment, not love nor praise.
"Ralph Salisbury is a strong and gentle Cherokee poet -- a hunter, warrior, and scholar, who fought well in the Good War and fights well now in the Resistance, with laughter and compassion, with toughness and grace, with truth and beauty."
"War in the Genes and Other Poems is a poetic summons to historical metaphors of native company. Ralph Salisbury creats an original sense of environmental time,'words of love, to raise the dead.' The Cherokee arise with the breath of autumn in a singular collection of poems."
** Finalist, Oregon Book Award **
"Nature in Ralph Salisbury's conception is a Presence to be addressed. I was drawn especially to such poems as 'Oil Spill Spreading,' 'Family Task, 4th Year,' and 'This Is My Death Dream.' This is a poet dedicated to keeping his heritage alive. His book deserves a broad audience."
—Maxine Kumin, on selecting Rainbows of Stone as an Oregon Book Award finalist
"A Magnificent summa from a superb artist."
"A collection of poems that interweaves family tales with personal and tribal history. Conjuring images that define his life - from the vanishing farming and hunting traditions with which he was raised to his experiences in World War II as a member of a bomber crew - he has produced a haunting, powerful work that expresses his devotion to the Cherokee religion and its harmony with the forces of Nature.
“By turns autobiographical and meditative, critical of hypocrisy and celebratory of spirit, Rainbows of Stone draws a bright arc across the last century.”
Ralph Salisbury tells stories of violent conflict and the triumphant will to live, as experienced by Cherokees in contemporary America. The realities of war and its ongoing effects, racial injustice, crime, disharmony between the sexes, and a sense of rootlessness and alienation are balanced by a questing for love, a will to resist both inner and outer evil, and a determination to endure.
Salisbury's prose, digressive and complex, is reminiscent of the writing of William Faulkner. His blending reality with dream and fulfilling a story's narrative arc in a few brief pages evoke the tales of Jorge Luis Borges. Salisbury challenges the reader with allusive imagery and surprising turns of phrase, yet maintains a down-to-earth language and an ironic, frequently humorous tone.
Grounded in tradition, the Cherokee, often mixed-blood, protagonists of The Last Rattlesnake Throw and Other Stories struggle to maintain harmony in a world full of upheavals and contradictions.
"Ralph Salisbury's short stories have been widely published and praised for their ability to blend reality and dream. His economy of language, his poet's ear, and his understanding of the contemporary Cherokee experience are clearly shown in this interesting collection. This is the work of an old pro."
—Joseph Bruchac, author of Between Earth and Sky: Legends of Native Sacred Places
"Ralph Salisbury's writing is unique in tone and voice, unlike the voice of any other American Indian writer writing today. Much of his language is rhythmic and his work with words challenges the reader with wonderful imagery and surprising turns of phrase."
—Gordon Henry, author of The Light People
“Ralph Salisbury carries his learning easily. He blends immediate, everyday concerns with large, distant and overarching issues and influences. He roves into more kinds of topics than most poets do, and he enlivens them more; partly, ... because he is able to be ... a responsive human being - while at the same time carrying a sense of the mysteries behind everyday things.”
"The words of Going to the Water: Poems of a Cherokee Heritage 'do it right'. They hit hard. And they must be heard. Listen."