Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americas

One of the significant highlights of Shaking the Pumpkin: Traditional Poetry of the Indian North Americans is a dizzying array of translation methods. One of the editor's main concerns when working on this anthology was not to use the "limiting" European definition of a poem, but rather to open up the definition to include the context surrounding the spoken word. To this end, Jerome Rothenberg attempts to translate all the elements involved with the poetic event or ritual—pictures, body movements, sounds—to create a more faithful, complete translation.

Rothenberg suggests in the introduction that the translations should work "by analogy to contemporary, limit-smashing experiments (as with concrete poetry, sound poetry, intermedia, happenings, etc.)" As a result, the stylistic range represented in Shaking the Pumpkin reflects the variety of poetic practices that existed among Native American cultures. (it is estimated that, before the exploration of North America by Europeans, over 500 distinct native languages were in use.)

Rothenberg translated, or cotranslated, a large portion of the material; however, other translators represented in the anthology include Anselm Hollo, W. S. Merwin, and Nathaniel Tarn. Along with a thoughtful introduction, Shaking the Pumpkin includes a breakdown of the works by region and tribe, and a large section of commentaries, which offer background information about each poem, placing the works within a cultural context. Rothenberg also uses the commentaries to discuss American Indian tribal poetry, philosophy, and history.

For more contemporary translations of American Indian literature see Coming to Light: Contemporary Translations of the Native Literatures of North America, edited by Brian Swann and published by Vintage in 1994.