Winner of the 2012 Donald Hall Prize in Poetry
Selected by Arthur Sze
Hyperboreal originates from diasporas. It attempts to make sense of change and to prepare for cultural, climate, and political turns that are sure to continue. The poems originate from the hope that our lives may be enriched by the expression of and reflection on the cultural strengths inherent to indigenous culture. It concerns King Island, the ancestral home of the author’s family until the federal government’s Bureau of Indian Affairs forcibly and permanently relocated its residents. The poems work towards the assembly of an identity, both collective and singular, that is capable of looking forward from the recollection and impact of an entire community’s relocation to distant and arbitrary urban centers. Through language, Hyperboreal grants forum to issues of displacement, lack of access to traditional lands and resources and loss of family that King Island people—and all Inuit—are contending with.
Kane's lyric voice is terse, lapidary; each of these poems is, as John Taggart would have it, a 'room for listening.' There is an immense and insistent stillness here, 'From / the forest / the wind / has all revised' to the 'dreams inlaid with rigid marrow.' These are songs of 'intaction,' of that which endures, poised against 'the / long fermata of dusk / and its promised repetition.'
I am mesmerized by these poems, their sonorous pathways across time and place; how they absorb and let me linger awhile in their stark beauty. Joan Kane has created a genuine indigenous poetic, irreducible, a point of reorigination and new beginnings. Hyperboreal will be remembered and celebrated.
If 'Hyperboreal' is, in part, an elegy to a dying culture, its author's exquisitely lithic imagery and arresting, angular syntax may at least renew our faith in the power of language. Kane articulates an enduring vision of the world, both abstract and scrupulously grounded, collective and stunningly intimate.
Demonstrates the poet's own vigorous and powerful lyric strokes, galvanizing and preserving an ancient relationship between humanity and the most northern landscapes of Earth. Kane's language, images, and lines are electric and deliberate—lasting impressions of 'a thousand / Summer days in extravagant succession.' ['Hyperboreal'] offers a confident and impressionistically lasting poet voice; and it portrays a philosophy of humble coexistence with nature.
What is at stake in 'Hyperboreal' is not only the threat of 'cultural and biological extinction' faced by the Inupiaq people of Alaska, but also the contested place of the human in that landscape and more particularly, the lyric subject. Kane questions its customary property (which is loss) and its dream of deliverance from extinction through craft. . . In this book, we are never far from the prospective end of a line of human beings, if not the extinction of the landscape.
Arctic landscapes and colonial transformations of Alaska Native communities provide the subjects of poems that are powerful, rich, and formally and conceptually intricate.
In this collection, Kane finds herself again and again listening for the voices of her people, echoing them back, finding them in the tumultuous relationship between mother and daughter, between human and landscape. This stark collection is full of both loss and hopefulness, and eternally aware of the way the world around us shifts, throwing us into new and unfamiliar places . . . Kane does more than preserve and record a language. She gives us a song, which tells the story of not only what she comes from, but also who she is now; as a native, as a woman, as a person grieving the loss of ancestral land and learning how to build another home.
Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, and The Straits. Her awards include the Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, the American Book Award, the Alaska Literary Award, and fellowships from the Rasmuson Foundation, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and the School for Advanced Research. Kane is a faculty mentor in the MFA program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. She is Inupiaq with family from King Island and Mary’s Igloo, and lives in Anchorage, AK.learn more