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spacer.gif   In Memory Of E. Donald Two Rivers
Posted by : cj on Monday, December 29, 2008 - 02:17 PM
Chicago Poetry Letters Section .
E.Donald Two-Rivers: June 29, 1945-December 27, 2008

Update on the memorial for Eddy Two-Rivers poet, playwright, director and short story writer died on December 27, 2009 in Green Bay, Wisconsin after a battle with cancer. The Chicago-area memorial is scheduled for January 10, 2009 from 4:PM to 8:PM at the American Indian Center, 1630 West Wilson Avenue (near Ashland Avenue). Please come by to offer your condolences to his family and to break bread with those who cared for one of our community's literary lights.


I thought you might want to know:

In 1991, I asked my friend Ed Two-Rivers if March Abrazo Press could publish a chapbook of his poetry. Ed was making the open mic poetry rounds all over Chicago's north side and near suburbs Oak Park, Evanston, and Skokie. I was excited by the talent I saw unfolding. Ed had taken his experiences as a former prisoner, Canadian/American treaty rights activist, tool and die worker/union member, husband, father, son, grandson and Anishinaabe (Ojibway) man and was making poetry. Maybe you remember that time as well.

Two-Rivers and I first met each other mid-June of 1971, during the symbolic occupation by American Indians of an abandoned U.S. Army (decommissioned 1968) Nike missile base at Belmont harbor. We drifted apart but a decade later we became friends during various community pow-wows at the Indian Center. In 1990 we were on- the -same - block neighbors in Albany Park. We started going to the various readings, especially at the Guild Complex on Lincoln Ave. Ed wasn't a "schooled" poet. He never attended formal poetry workshops (that I know of). Like his other friend Carlos A. Cortez Koyokuikatl (Singing Coyote) they were working-class grass roots writers. Ed loved Cortez's ability to tell stories, just like they did in the old days.

Ed had many of his own stories to share and he did so, esespeciallyfter the successful reception of his first one thousand copies of A DOZEN COLD ONES BY TWO RIVERS.

He launched his first book at the Sunday Green Mill Poetry Slam readings in spring 1992. MC Marc Smith did the introduction and Two Rivers delivered a great standing-room only reading. Ed loved the audience and they loved him. The book was 32 pages of poetry, plus four additional pages of an "open letter" concerning the Paypom Document of 1873, and a poet's "afterword" and art (Lonnie Poco, Comanche) stapled chapbook. A year later another 1,000 copies of A DOZEN COLD ONES was printed and it too also sold out. We discussed doing a third printing but never settled on what changes might be made. Today, I am sorry to say, there are no copies available from March Abrazo Press. So if you have a copy, I hope you treasure it.

In the mean time, Two Rivers was busy taking his own stories and bringing them to the stage with the founding of the first of it's kind Chicago's Red Path Theater Company. Ed also hit the national level with his University of Oklahoma, 1998 short story collection of Survivor's Medicine and his 2001 collection of plays Briefcase Warriors. Ed's next poetry collection appeared 11 years after his debut; with Pow WoWs, Fat Cats, and Other Indian Tales with Mammoth publishers isbn 0939391-33-3. It is a beautiful perfect bound book of 75 pages. Two Rivers had started out with a humble looking emotionally powerful but imperfect (wabe sabe) chapbook. He did what he could to discipline himself to become a writer and playwright. He inspired me to also want to write a play which I did and I dedicated to him. So from Green Bay, Wisconsin where the trees are filled with birds late Saturday night December 27, 2008, our friend went to join the ancestors. May they welcome him.

There will be a memorial for E. Donald Two Rivers in Chicago in a few weeks, maybe in a month, at the American Indian Center 1630 West Wilson Avenue (near Ashland). Let me know if you want the memorial schedule. In the meantime I say (thank you) Megwetch Eddy, I burn sweetgrass and offer tobacco for you my brother.

--Carlos Cumpian


I'm really sorry to hear about Two Rivers. He was such a good person. I will miss him a lot.

The following poem I wrote after I met him at Cathaleen S. reading by the lake when she had it North Ave. beach.

To E. Two Rivers

Spirit of the Lake
I beseech your forgivness
for I broke your harmony
on a night of full moon
when some poets screamed at you
disrupting the nature of your spirit.

I am here to make peace
with your spirit
for I do not wish
to live my life with anger
by the Spirit of the Lake
who lives within me
and all things alike.

Good Spirit of the Lake
I am here today
to offer my sacrifice
to you and the four winds
riders of nature
sharing my respect and love
my spirit has with yours.

I offer you these red roses
as a sign of beauty
death and life
is to me,
and these ashes
basic material
of the universe.

(Burn the poem and spread the ashes in the lake)

Jose Bono Rovirosa
Seosan-SI, S, Korea


I'd love to see someone write the biography of E. Donald Two-Rivers (and maybe a movie.) There is so much for all of us to learn from. He reminds me so much of the steady stream of jazz musicians that get broken by various things in our society -- screwed up relationships with their partners, their silent poverty amidst the flaunted wealth of the "successful", the crazed indifference of the masses towards their art form while it is heralded in other communities (for example, Black jazz men still fill concert halls in Europe then return home to play for 6 loyal fans in a dark dingy club, for $20.) Add the spine-breaking dance done when trying to live in two worlds: for folks like Eddie, those 2 worlds were incredibly polar opposite.

I think artist men of color are often extremely vulnerable in this world. On top of it is the isolation that everyone feels, but that is not "supposed to" exist for famous people like Eddie. Hell, he's in Wikipedia! American Book Award, buy his books on Amazon, long list of his playwrites etc etc etc. Probably knew thousands of people but felt very alone more often than not, is my guess.

After an hour of searching, I found that the main Wiki article on Eddie has been updated (earlier today) to say Eddie died on the 28th (yesterday.) I don't know why press, news, dictionaries, type all make things more concrete. I saved Hugo's text, as if i still require proof of Eddie's passing. As if there is any proof other than seeing the man's body without its spirit. I don't think I'll ever forget hearing his voice on the phone all crazy/pissed-off/"sick-of-something" fierce. "I'm DIEING, man!" Why a Wiki entry update seems more "truthful" than that, I don't know.

I made a little bowl last night of sweet cedar leaves and lit a candle in it, and thanked Eddie for what he taught me, and for being kind enough to acknowledge me in this world. And this is coming from someone who hasn't ever been close to the man -- just a few projects, meetings, quick conversations.

--Mars Caulton

If I dared attempt a memorial for E. Donald Two-Rivers, it could only be one metaphor long, lest I wallow in easy cliches, and Eddie was anything but a cliche. He lived a warrior's life, writing poetry, stories and plays with fierce honesty, from the heart and the gut, the Chicago way, and now he parties his ass off in the sacred space of immortals. And Studs just handed him the mic...

Larry Winfield

Send thoughts or comments to

Note: In memory of E. Donald Two-Rivers, aka Eddie Two Rivers, aka Eddy Two Rivers

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