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joannaviyukkane

Photo: Library Loan
I enjoyed hearing Native Alaskan Joan Naviyuk Kane read her poems and talk about her life at the Poetry at the Library series.

Our library has enabled me to hear all sorts of wonderful poets over the years. The woman in charge of the poetry series is good at bringing in poets you can sort of understand even at first reading. And the poets’ books are available to buy if you want to dig in later.

Last fall, I was intrigued by poet Joan Naviyuk Kane — both by her poems and her explanations between poems of what life is like for indigenous people in Alaska. To share some of that experience with you, I poked around on the web and came up with links.

The first link is from the library, here. “Multiple award-winning poet Joan Naviyuk Kane will read from and discuss her work that explores themes of adaptation and resilience, motherhood, marriage, extended family and its geographical context in her rapidly changing Arctic homeland.”

From the Poetry Foundation, here, we learn that “she earned a BA at Harvard University and an MFA at Columbia University. Kane’s spare, lyric poems are rooted in her Arctic homeland and concerned with movement: enlarging, thawing, accruing, crossing, even at times transforming. She considers themes of ecological, domestic, and historical shifts. Kane contends with biological, cultural, and political threats to her ancestral community, including climate change, language death, and the diaspora prompted by the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ forcible relocation of King Island residents in the mid-twentieth century.

” ‘Yet as a mother and a daughter, an educator and an artist, Kane brings to these subjects a singular, sonorous voice and a lyric sensibility as alternatingly austere and lush as the land of her ancestral home,’ observed Maggie Millner in a 2014 ZYZZYVA review of Hyperboreal.” More from the Poetry Foundation.

You might also like an interview conducted over e-mail by Anastasia Nikolis in winter 2018 for the Library of Congress, here:

“The stereotype about writers is that they are solitary and isolated, but your work is so connected to your family, to your ancestral heritage, and to the Inupiaq community.
“I’m so fortunate to have been raised with a family that insists upon connection, however difficult. When I am trying to structure the life of my children so that they remain connected — not just to our ancestral heritage, but to each other and our relatives, to the replenishing aspects of the human intellect that words afford, to our present and traditional lands — I remain connected to the fact that my ancestral heritage is not just a thing of the past, but a gift and responsibility whose urgency and vitality is carried forward in the present and future. …

“I’m not alone in this. My close contemporaries in the Native literary community — Sherwin Bitsui, Terese Mailhot, M.L. Smoker, Eden Robinson, Abigail Chabitnoy, Cathy Tagnak Rexford, and Tommy Orange, for instance — bring this to bear in their writing and discussions, in their families, in their lives as teachers. … Closer to home, I was raised with books and essays and poems by Joseph Senungetuk, Susie Silook, and William Oquilluk. My mother and father are voracious readers: they made it possible for me to see that you can read to establish and inform your sovereignty, and to remind me that their best words connect people through time.

“My uncles (as I was growing up and as I raise my children), too, all world-class artists (carvers of walrus ivory), modeled one way of being independent yet joined in with the work that Inuit have done and will do as long as humanity exists. …

The poems in Milk Black Carbon work out the profound and complicated, but also dynamic and changeable, ways the body, the land, and language relate to one another. … Could you elaborate on that interaction?
“This is not an on-trend platitude: the land, water, and ice give Inuit everything we need to survive, and it’s been that way for millennia. It’s been something to live through and witness firsthand the astonishing rate of climate change in the arctic and sub-arctic, to feel in my bones some of the most drastic environmental turns.

“My relatives — Uyuguluk in particular — told me how much more of the King Island dialect I would understand once I’d been to the island. It’s among the most challenging and generative sites of human inhabitation on the planet. It requires and bestows a highly-specialized and precise command of language. I think I have some difficulty answering this question because my family had its relationship with our ancestral lands extinguished by the United States government.”

And there’s the Harvard Magazine angle, here, “ ‘We ended up going by crab tender,’ says Joan Naviyuk Kane ’00, of her latest work trip. ‘It’s not lavish, or glamorous, riding a crab tender out, 90 miles, 12 hours across the Bering Sea.’

“Kane’s choice of transportation — a small boat used alongside larger vessels in crabbing — is perhaps even more surprising given her choice of career. [She] has three books of poetry to her name: The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, and an untitled collection just sent to her publisher. ‘I thought I was going to be pre-med,’ she says, but a gap year after high school and a fall semester in Porter University Professor Helen Vendler’s freshman seminar, reading poetry closely, changed all that. …

“But back to the Bering Sea. The crab tender was headed to King Island, a tiny, rocky landmass between Russia and Alaska. Now uninhabited, the island was home until the early 1960s to a small indigenous hunting and fishing community that included Kane’s mother and grandparents. Eventually, under the Bureau of Indian Affairs’ assimilation policy, they were pressured to leave.

“Though Kane was born after they left the island, she describes a childhood filled with stories of its landscape. … So this past summer, after a successful crowd-funding campaign, she and a small group of fellow King Island women returned. It was the first time she had set foot there.

“ ‘It’s one thing to hear; it was another thing entirely to go,’ she says of the trip’s hazards.” More.

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Photo: The Economist
Ugandan writer Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi is part of an African literary Renaissance.

Other than a day trip from Spain to Morocco decades ago, I have never set foot in Africa. But I have experienced it, in a way, by reading African writers such as Wole Soyinka and Chinua Acebe. Today, a new generation of young writers is offering the world fresh insight.

The Economist writes, “In 2003 Harriet Anena was a schoolgirl in northern Uganda, a region then at war. The army had ordered people into squalid, crowded camps; insurgents stalked the bush.

“ ‘We scratch our destiny / from hands of a curtailing fate,’ she scribbled, sitting beneath a mango tree. In poetry she found a way to ask questions that children, especially girls, were not supposed to ask. ‘I started writing for therapy,’ she says.

“This month Ms Anena recited those lines on the stage of the National Theatre in Kampala, melding drums, dance and poetry in an arresting evocation of love and war. Her performance was the highlight of this year’s Writivism festival, an annual celebration of creative writing, and a testament to the vitality of the country’s small but flourishing literary scene.

“Uganda was once at the fulcrum of African literature. It was at Makerere University, on a hill above Kampala, that giants such as Chinua Achebe and Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o gathered in 1962 for the first African Writers’ Conference, a landmark event held on the eve of independence for many countries. …

“Yet in a place where history and politics weigh heavy, writers are finding fresh voice. A number of trailblazing authors have passed through FEMRITE, a non-profit founded in 1996 to publish and promote women’s writing in Uganda. Writivism, now in its seventh year, publishes an annual anthology and runs a short-story prize.

“And Ugandan literature can boast of an international superstar in Jennifer Nansubuga Makumbi (pictured), whose debut novel Kintu is a multi-generational saga that ties oral myth to a recognisable present. …

“Encountering the names of familiar places in a novel ‘just blew by mind,’ says Nyana Kakoma, who runs a small publishing house in Kampala. ‘I said wait a minute, this is me, this is my life, this is Uganda as I know it.’

“Much of this new literature is strikingly political. The Betrothal, a play by Joshua Mmali, is a retelling of a multimillion-dollar corruption scandal that he covered as a journalist for the BBC; its performances at the National Theatre in Uganda last year were greeted with whoops of recognition from audiences. Bold writers can draw on the daily chronicles of hypocrisy and clampdowns recorded by a lively press. …

“War, corruption and sexism are not easy topics, and creative expression has its limits. Uganda has an authoritarian government, presided over by an ageing and increasingly testy strongman. This month Stella Nyanzi, an activist and academic, was sentenced to 18 months in prison after posting a poem on Facebook [about] the president’s mother.

“For all that, it would be a mistake to assume that Ugandan writing is glum, pious or austere. Young writers are finding humour in struggle, and joy in the everyday. There is the promise of freedom in their work. ‘Do not miss the chance to groove, my child,’ writes Peter Kagayi, a poet, ‘at the pattering of life’s raindrops.’ ”

More here.

 

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Photo: KUOW
Civic poet Claudia Castro Luna created Seattle’s Poetic Grid and, leading workshops in libraries, helped residents express how they feel about the places they know.

My friend Ronnie Hess, a Wisconsin poet, linked to this story on Facebook, adding, “An excellent story but one that reminds me of Madison’s Echolocations, an anthology edited by past poets laureate of Madison Sarah Busse and Wendy Vardaman.”

On PBS News Hour, Jeffrey Brown interviewed Claudia Castro Luna and others about Seattle’s Poetic Grid.

“Brown: The idea of the Poetic Grid is to capture a sense of place in a city going through rapid change, and to use the words of the people who live here. … Claudia Castro Luna dreamed up the online digital map in 2015, when she became Seattle’s first civic poet. …

“Luna: We all have stories to tell about the place we live in. And we all have memories attached to the place we live in. And so, [our workshop effort] was like opening up a faucet.

“And people have stories to tell. And that’s one of the marvelous things. At the end, I told them, you will write. You will see you will have a poem. And, indeed, they had one. …

“Brown: The poems for the grid span the city. Some are about home, memories of growing up in the affluent Blue Ridge neighborhood. Others are about homelessness, the cold concrete of a Seattle underpass.

“There are poems left in their native tongues, Spanish, Arabic. The writers run from well-established poets to first-timers. And they reflect the diversity of the changing city, where cranes dot the skyline.

“Luna: Some of the poems express very well what it feels like to not recognize the place you grew up in, because the buildings that you had so much attachment and were meaningful to you are no longer there …

“Koon Woon: I first moved in here when I couldn’t afford rent anywhere else in the city. And my uncle said well, there’s a room here for $60 a month. And I came here to look at it. And there’s this tiny little table. I said, I can put my typewriter on top of that. So, I took the room. …

“Brown: Koon Woon was born in China, but moved to Seattle in 1960. In the 1980s, he lived just a block from here, sometimes homeless, struggling with mental illness. His poem, ‘The High Walls I Cannot Scale,’ is now part of the grid. …

“For 17-year-old Lily Baumgart [Seattle Youth Poet Laureate], animals figured into her writing as well.

“Baumgart: The squirrels here are very aggressive. They expect to be fed by people. And so we’d write stories about why they’d come up to people, how humans’ interactions with animals change their behaviors. … Volunteer Park, they say there’s a giant squid in the reservoir, that if you could climb the fence, you could stick your hand into the bright water and feel his slimy body swimming by yours. When it rained we would hide in trees and feel their cold bark underneath our toes. We’d laugh so loud that the sky would be scared of us and our umbrella laughter. …

“Brown: Poetry brought something else to Claudia Castro Luna, a way to work through traumatic childhood memories of war in El Salvador that forced her family to leave their home when she was 14.

“Luna: It was a tremendous loss of place, of culture, of family, of language. [All] of my writing has to do with understanding that — what it meant to lose that place. And this is why I’m interested in other people’s lives and what they have to say about the place they occupy.”

More at PBS NewsHour, here. See the Poetic Grid here.

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Photo: Wycliffe College/PA
English school girl
Gracie Starkey wrote a winning haiku. Here she is at the prize-giving ceremony in Tokyo.

I’ve always liked the standard 17-syllable haiku poem and taught the form to fifth graders years ago. Asakiyume remembers one I wrote for her at a business magazine where we worked. It was about a dream she’d recounted, and it referred to the moon as “trending downward” (business jargon we heard a lot).

Of course, most experts are Japanese. Until now. Here is a story my husband emailed me about a young girl in England who won a haiku contest.

Steven Morris writes at the Guardian, “A British schoolgirl inspired by an autumnal stroll across a newly mown lawn has become the first non-Japanese person to win a prestigious haiku competition.

“Gracie Starkey, 14, from Gloucestershire, beat more than 18,000 entries to take the prize in the English-language section of the contest organised annually by a Japanese tea company. …

“As she and a friend took a walk after [her school’s haiku] workshop, grass cuttings stuck to her footwear and the haiku came to her:

“Freshly mown grass
“clinging to my shoes
“my muddled thoughts

“Her poem – a non-traditional form that does not follow the classic five-seven-five syllable pattern – was entered into the competition organised by the multinational Ito En, first held in 1989. For the first 27 years the English-language section was won by Japanese people. …

“Gracie said she was amazed when she heard she had won and had been invited to Tokyo.

“ ‘I could only tell my mum and dad and sister and my Japanese teacher at Wycliffe College,’ said Gracie. ‘I told my friends that I was going to Wales for a week and that I wouldn’t have any phone reception.’ …

“As well as winning the trip, Gracie’s poem was rendered by a famous calligrapher, and she received a cash prize. Most thrillingly, her poem is being reproduced on thousands of bottles of green tea. …

“Previously she had little interest in poetry. ‘This has certainly made me more interested in poetry and in Japanese culture.’ ”

More at the Guardianhere.

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Photo: Ted Roeder

I wonder if poetry is going to see an upsurge in our time. Better than any other form of communication, poetry can get to the heart of the matter, expressing important truths and feelings obliquely.

Recently I read about poets who gather annually on New Year’s Day in New York City to share their unique statements. The event is part of what is known as “The Poetry Project.”

“There are three things to consider when the New Year’s Day Poetry Marathon sweeps you into its gracefully uncouth embrace,” says the website, “what it is, what it was, and who you will be when it’s over. An untamed gathering of the heart’s secret, wild nobility — over 140 poets together revealing not just that a better life could exist, but that it already does, sexy and wise, rancorous and sweet, big hearted and mad as hell. …

“Since Anne Waldman gathered 31 poets at the very first marathon on January 2, 1974, countless forward-facing luminaries have thrown their voices into the cauldron — among them Eric Bogosian, William S. Burroughs, Spalding Gray, Jackson Mac Low, Ed Sanders, Pedro Pietri, Helen Adam, John Cage, Joe Ceravolo, John Giorno, Ted Berrigan, Yoko Ono, Amiri Baraka, Gordon Matta Clark, Jim Carroll, Bernadette Mayer, Alice Notley, Steve Cannon, Hannah Weiner, Kathy Acker, Arthur Russell, Gerard Malanga, Suzanne Vega, Allen Ginsberg, Patti Smith, and Philip Glass. The list grows every year …

“Whether you stay for a little while or for the long haul, whether you’re part of the standing room only experience at sunset or with the handful of diehards as the final poet reads her last word in the predawn sanctuary, you will be transformed for the year to come. Your presence helps launch a great flare into the otherwise impenetrable darkness of the 21st century night. …

“The Project receives many requests to perform in the Marathon, and we feel fortunate that so many people want to help us meet our fundraising goals. We only have about 150 spots and a seemingly unlimited artistic community to draw from. [Click here for] some basic information about our selection process. …

“Reading is just one way of participating in the event. There are volunteer opportunities (about 100 are needed) to help sell books, food and drink, assist in checking in readers, etc. It’s also an opportunity to meet or catch up with other writers/artists and support the Project’s mission. …

“For photo galleries of past New Year’s Day Marathons, please visit photographer Ted Roeder’s website.”

More about the annual event and how poems get selected, here.

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Photo: Star Tribune
Ojibwe poet Jim Northrup

I have been trying to learn something about tribal cultures in the United States. I liked Spokane/Coeur d’Alene tribal member Sherman Alexie’s Thunder Boy (a charming picture book for young children) and The Lone Ranger and Tonto Fistfight in Heaven (an early, painful collection of short stories). Now I am reading some Native American poetry.

One poet, Jim Northrup, recently died. Here is a beautiful obit by Jana Hollingsworth in the Duluth News Tribune.

“Jim Northrup was a ‘tough man’ who taught his eldest sons to survive in the elements by living in a tepee on the Fond du Lac Reservation for several years, when money and jobs were scarce.

“But it was more than physical survival, said his son, Matthew, on Tuesday, the day after his father died from cancer-related complications. He taught them how to be strong in a world that didn’t treat everyone the same, he said, using humor — and education — as tools.

” ‘ “When you have really nothing else,” he said to me a lot, “you have your humor,” Matthew said. ” ‘When you grow up poor on the rez and when you grow up a lower class in society, you realize that.’

“Northrup, an award-winning writer of books, columns, plays and poetry — and a prominent member of the Fond du Lac Band of Lake Superior Chippewa — died [in July]. He was 73.

“Northrup was a storyteller, known for his stark and honest writing about his experience as a U.S. Marine in Vietnam and his early years at a federal boarding school. He was funny and pointed in his writings about everyday life on the reservation, politics and change in Indian Country. He wrote as a way to heal himself from some of the trauma he experienced during the war, he said earlier this year.

” ‘I knew my poetry was being used in vets’ groups to help people open up (and) maybe even write their own poetry as part of their healing,’ he told the News Tribune in March. ‘It worked for me, so I hoped it helped (others).’ ”

More here, where you can hear Northrup read a poem in Ojibwe about passing along the culture. Read the whole obit. It’s really lovely. I hated to cut it.

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I Hear America Singing

By Walt Whitman

I hear America singing, the varied carols I hear,
Those of mechanics, each one singing his as it should be blithe and strong,
The carpenter singing his as he measures his plank or beam,
The mason singing his as he makes ready for work, or leaves off work,
The boatman singing what belongs to him in his boat, the deckhand singing on the steamboat deck,
The shoemaker singing as he sits on his bench, the hatter singing as he stands,
The wood-cutter’s song, the ploughboy’s on his way in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The delicious singing of the mother, or of the young wife at work, or of the girl sewing or washing,
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The day what belongs to the day—at night the party of young fellows, robust, friendly,
Singing with open mouths their strong melodious songs.

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