Influenced by Roethke, John Keats, and Octavio Paz, Niatum composes lyric poems exploring themes of romantic love and cultural heritage. In a review of The Crooked Beak of Love (2000) for Raven Chronicles, scholar David L. Moore observed, “Niatum’s intense love poems, so wrapped in an individual consciousness, tend toward tragedy, whereas his poems of nature and culture, striving for a voice rising on the wind in the cedars of his ancestors, tend toward reconciliation of history and promise.”
Niatum has published numerous collections of poetry, including Ascending Red Moon Cedar (1974); Song for the Harvester of Dreams (1980), which won the Before Columbus Foundation’s American Book Award; and Drawings of the Song Animals: New and Selected Poems (1991). A former editor for Harper & Row’s Native American Authors series, Niatum also edited the Native American literature anthologies Carriers of the Dream Wheel (1975) and Harper’s Anthology of Twentieth Century American Poetry (1988). His own poetry has been widely anthologized and translated into more than a dozen languages.
Niatum’s honors include residencies at the Millay Colony for the Arts and Yaddo, the Governor’s Award from the State of Washington, and grants from the Carnegie Fund for Authors and the PEN Fund for Writers.
Niatum still lives in Seattle and has taught at Evergreen State College and the University of Washington, as well as area high schools.