THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

“White Man, you think to be better than a Red Man, Black Man and Yellow Man. But your skin is the color of worms, and soft like the belly of a blind mole.” Verses written with the Indian technique of smoke signals by the Sioux Chief Sitting Bull in Ohio, 1849.  (from the book “The Burning Soul”)

chief sitting bull THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

People think Sitting Bull didn’t leave anything written because he was an analphabet. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Brandpowder Team was recently invited to South Dakota by Pink Cloud, the grand-grand-grand nephew of Sitting Bull, who wanted to tell us a beautiful and quite incredible story about his beloved ancestor. Everybody knows Sitting Bull as the great Sioux Chief and warrior who kicked Custer and the 7th Cavalry in the ass, leading his tribes to victory at Little Bighorn in 1876. But very few people know Sitting Bull was a writer and a poet who adopted smoke signals as his own vertical grammar. His burning verses, for more than forty years, rose up as columns of smoke into the American skies to whisper an elevated message into the Gods’ ears.

sitting bull 01bn 600x399 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Above: one of the first rising poems written by Sitting Bull with the vertical grammar of smoke signals: This mighty text says: “You came to this land and you called it America. But we were here before you, and we called it Anowarkowa. Go back to your land, sheepfuckers!” (restored photo: Yukon Territories, 1865)

sitting bull 02bn 600x399 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

(Above) another poem rising in the distance. It says: “You dig for oil, you dig for gold. You dig your own grave!” Nobody better than Sitting Bull can express the unquenchable greed of the white settlers. For this powerful poem Sitting Bull burnt almost six hundred trees, stolen from the Weyerhaeuser sawmill. Pink Cloud told us carbon footprint was not an issue, back then. And Sitting Bull was not much of an environmentalist (restored photo: Coal Valley, Illinois 1877).

burning woman 600x597 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Above: Pink Cloud, helped by his husband Big Cock, keeps the old tradition of smoke signals alive. “We send sacred hymns to our beloved ancestors” – she says.

sitting bull 03bn 600x800 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

“Keep the rifles, keep the whisky, keep the money for yourself. We are poor but free and happy. We laugh at your skinny belongings, fat cowboys.” Also in these verses Sitting Bull demonstrates the force of his fuming, devastating language. (above: restored photo, taken in Montana, 1852)

sitting bull 04bn 600x399 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

“Fuck Peanut Butter! We eat Bear’s Fat.” This is one of the shortest poems by the Sioux Chief. Only a few pictures of his flighty literature survive to this day, and the photo above is the only one taken while Sitting Bull was actually writing. He didn’t have a studio – Pink Cloud explained us with a bright smile – his office was the world. (picture taken in Northern California, about 1877)

sitting bull 05bn 600x449 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Above: Every now and then Sitting Bull opted for a more cryptic style. In this very large smoke ring (approximately 150 ft. in diameter) we can really appreciate his great handling of syntax. Pink Cloud told us it’s quite difficult to decipher this poem, but its message – most likely – was due to Sitting Bull’s shamanic nihilism.    (restored photo – Arizona, end of 1870).

sitting bull 06bn 600x400 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Above: Sitting Bull also composed after dusk. The smoke, in the evening’s cooler air, rises thicker and quicker. The text says: “I love my knife, I love my life, I love my wife”. This is one of the last poems the Chief threw to the wind. If it’s true that “Verba Volant”, Sitting Bull made them fly higher than anybody else.

book smoke THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Above: one of the books the Brandpowder Team published as a tribute to Sitting Bull (his real name, Ta-Tanka I-Yotank, means Sitting Buffalo). The book bears a selection of rare photos of Vertical Poetry by the great Sioux Chief, plus several old documents about smoke signals’ culture among American Indians.

Below: another title by Brandpowder (battered after we left it under the pouring rain for two days). This book, beside the poetry part, will teach the reader how to master the challenging technique of smoke signals through the correct handling and burning of natural resources like wood, peat and unusual organic materials. There’s also a chapter dedicated to winds’ control, defense tips in case of arson, and a quite useful graph to help you keep air pollution under a reasonable level.

smoking words book THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Below:  The central pages are made out of black tar, which is perfect for producing a convincing plume of thick smoke for your first outdoor experiments.

kiefer 0016 600x423 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

matches2b 600x528 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

Sitting Bull never used a pen. His smoky writing always started from a flame. Pink Cloud showed us this match-box (above).  It belonged to his grandfather, Screaming Eagle, who happened to be one of the nephews of the Sioux Chief and also a Medicine Man. He told her many fascinating stories about Sitting Bull, when she was still very young.

Below: Screaming Eagle tried to put on paper some of the burning words of Sitting Bull; it’s thanks to his effort, if today we can appreciate the elevated poetry of the Great Sioux Chief.

diary bull 600x444 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

sigar cloud 600x450 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

The day we left the Lower 48 to go back to Brandpowder’s headquarters in Alaska, we stopped by Lake Oahe, a few miles north of Fort Pierre National Grassland. It was bloody cold, that morning, and icy northern winds were blowing from Saskatchewan. We saw an incredible formation over the lake and, for a moment, we thought the Spirit of Sitting Bull wanted to write us a farewell. But we were told by a local ranger that was a phenomenon called Morning Glory. It happens when strong winds shape clouds, rolling them into long cigars. It was an outstanding view.

We wish to thank warmly Pink Cloud for her invaluable assistance and hard work in providing us with all the material and countless stories. Without her effort our two books on Sitting Bull’s poetry would haven’t been possible. A special thanks also to her husband Big Cock for showing us around and keeping the fire going ’till the end.

The Brandpowder Team

img9 600x489 THE VERTICAL POETRY OF SITTING BULL

About brandpowder

5 comments

  1. Thanks BT. Sitting bull was also know as Spitting bull from the old indian tradition of estinguishing a fireplace with a ‘zallon’. The rising smoke was dense and intense and the signal always telling the same :’Spitting Bull’s lungs much cleaner augh’.

  2. Thanks R,

    We never heard about this extra ability. The American Indian story telling dips its spoon into a rich mythological soup and it’s quite difficult to separate the real from the unreal. The sacre from the prophane (and the propane). But Sitting Bull, we are sure, would have appreciate your sense of humour.

    The BT

  3. When someonе ωriteѕ an post he/she rеtаіns thе іdеa of a uѕer in
    hіs/her brаin thаt how a useг cаn be aware of it.
    Sο that’s why this article is great. Thanks!

    Have a look at my page shutterfly *http://www.icemyphotos.com*

  4. Thank you so much, Ink Blue Sky, for your comment. It gives our work a meaning.

    the Brandpowder Team

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*


five + = 14

Scroll To Top