In the Presence of the Sun: Stories and Poems, 1961-1991 by N. Scott Momaday, University of New Mexico Press, 169 pages
It’s unclear why the University of New Mexico Press has decided to reissue N. Scott Momaday’s collection, In the Presence of the Sun, 17 years after it was first published in hardcover — and without an updated preface. Momaday, born in 1934, is of Kiowa, Cherokee, and English descent. In 1969, his first novel, House Made of Dawn, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for fiction. In the Presence of the Sun is divided into four sections. The first, “Selected Poems,” is mostly concerned with Native legends. Some of this early work is uneven as the poet tries to find his voice. “The Strange and True Story of My Life With Billy the Kid” is a short, interesting musing about the outlaw’s imaginary life in New Mexico. Momaday, in his role as the narrator, fictionalizes a friendship with Billy and strives to portray him as a sensitive and romantic man. “In the Presence of the Sun: A Gathering of Shields” opens with an explanation of the origins and uses of Plains Indian shields and is completed by a collection of prose poems partnered with Momaday’s ink drawings. The final section, “New Poems,” shows off his love of the couplet form.
In the Presence of the Sun is a good introduction to Momaday’s writing. Best of all are the art works peppering the book. These are as varied in style and medium as the poems themselves.