Monday, November 26, 2012

Buffalo Dance: The journey of York

Thanks to Heather Conley for a new book by a KY author.

Walker, F. (2004). Buffalo Dance:  The journey of York.  Lexington, KY:  The University Press of Kentucky.Frank X Walker is a professor at the University of Kentucky.  He is known for the creation of the word Affrilachia, meaning "African-American Appalachia.  He even published a book of poetry title Affrilachia in 2000.

The collection of poems titled Buffalo Dance:  The Journey of York revolves around the Lewis and Clark expedition.  York was the name of Clark's slave who traveled with the group.  Walker takes on the persona of York, telling the story of the expedition through York's point of view.  Throughout the collection, there are small descriptions of the events of the expedition.  Walker uses these descriptions to share his inspiration with his audience. 

Most of the poems contain very little punctuation, and the diction is very distinct.  In one poem, titled "Earth Tones," Walker writes, "Massa believe the earth an all her chil'ren / be like wild horses that need to be broke...Most Indian peoples we come across / seem to be partners with the land...Who say they own the land?"  The use of "an," "Massa," and "chil'ren" and the intentional use of incorrect subject-verb agreement are meant to show the lack of education of York.

Walker uses figures of speech to give life to the natural environment that surrounds York.  Personification is used to describe the sound of the river in "Sad Eye":  "the river singing softly / in the distance...."  Simile is used to describe Lewis and Clark in "Ornithologists":  "The Captains...was happy as larks / if we could bring something new...."The figurative language used by Walker also employs phrases that are considered Appalachian in nature.

It is interesting to see such an important part of United States history told through the eyes of such an underrated figure.  Quite often we see the story told through Sacagawea's view point, but we never see York's interpretation of the journey.  Even though it is Walker's own imagination, the poems can still bring a lot of discussion to the classroom.  The last poem in the collection, "Birth Day," is from the legend that York became a chief among the Crow Indians and did not die in Tennessee as is told in history.

Buffalo Dance is a great book that could be used in a variety of courses:  English, US history, Kentucky history, etc.  Some questions for reflection may include:  What other stories in from history could be told from different point of view?  How was York's life as a slave different from other slaves during this time period?  How were York and Sacagawea alike; how were they different?

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