November 29, 1993 12:00 PM

Voices of Pioneer Women

by Jana Harris

Although this is a book of poems and the author is most definitely a poet, she also writes—and this is meant as a compliment—like a journalist. From meticulous research, Harris has reconstructed in verse the world of women living in Washington State at the turn of the century. So vivid are the voices of the pioneer teachers, missionaries and the original Native Americans that you occasionally need to turn to the author’s notes to be reminded that this collection was written by one contemporary woman.

The tone of the pieces is undeniably feminist—the women are earthy and frank, honest about the drudgery of their lives and the ironies of being socially powerless members of their society. But their concerns are not entirely insular. In accessible, not overly poetic language, Harris includes accounts of Native American and white settler distrust and racism, and such real-life events as the Salmon City flood of 1894 and the cattle-killing winters not uncommon in those parts. It’s too bad that poetry almost automatically gets shunted into the hardly-read category; this collection belongs in the enlightening historical fiction department. (Ontario Review Press/Princeton, $9.95)

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