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Iñupiaq poet's visit starts PoetryNorth events in Kotzebue, Nome and Barrow

Carey RestinoThe Arctic Sounder

While many would say the landscape of the Arctic with all its extremes is prime fodder for prose, aspiring poets in the region have few sources of inspiration when it comes to Native poets — published ones, anyway.

But two well-known Native poets, as well as the 2012 state writer laureate, will visit the Arctic region this winter as part of a collaborative program called PoetryNorth. Poets Joan Naviyuk Kane, Peggy Shumaker and Ishmael Hope will present in the Kotzebue, Nome and Barrow as a result of a grant from the Alaska State Library. The first visiting poet, Kane, will present at 7 p.m. Tuesday at the Chukchi College.

Stacey Glaser, library manager for the college, said the impetus behind the program was to highlight some of the exciting things happening in the world of Native Alaska poetry.

"It's a great time to buoy all of that," Glaser said.

Kane is Iñupiaq with family from King Island and Mary's Igloo. She studied at Harvard College and Columbia University, and received the 2009 Whiting Writers' Award for her first poetry collection, "The Cormorant Hunter's Wife." Her second book, "Hyperboreal," was the winner of the 2012 AWP Donald Hall Prize in Poetry and is due to be in print in early to mid-2013.

Kane said she was thrilled to be part of PoetryNorth, in part because she has harbored a lifelong love for libraries and in part because it gives her an opportunity to travel and trade stories with people. That's something that is part of the culture of Iñupiat people, and an important part of her creative process as a poet, she said.

"Iñupiat people always had poetry in our traditional song and in the nuances of our indigenous language," Kane said. "Poetry is just another way to give voice to our emotions, our thoughts, to the world."

A fellow writer planted the idea in her head that someday there might be shelves in the libraries full of books by Iñupiat writers.

"As our culture and our resources continue to change and grow, we can continue to use our words to preserve our language," said Kane. "As subarctic people, we can continue to develop and strengthen our identity through a literary voice and through learning about other experiences."

Meanwhile, Ishmael Angalook Hope, a storyteller, poet and performer from Juneau, will bring his Iñupiaq- and Tlingit-infused writing to the Arctic region in 2013. Hope's family hails from Kotzebue as well as Sitka. He has been involved with numerous theater and cultural festival efforts in Alaska. He's even written a comic book with traditional Tlingit story lines woven into contemporary life.

"It seems that the best poetry is found in mythology — where I keep finding things out, where I continue to have new discoveries, new things to think about," wrote Hope in an artist's statement. "In other words, mythology is meaningful. Meaning is like ecology where ocean waves continue to lap over each other, or a new red cedar tree sprouts from a fallen one."

Coming later in the winter is Peggy Shumaker, 2012 Alaska State Writer Laureate. Shumaker's most recent book of poems, "Gnawed Bones," follows a lyrical memoir "Just Breath Normally." She has also worked on "Toucan Nest," a book of poems set in Costa Rica. Though born in California, Shumaker has made Alaska her home and in 2008, founded Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, to publish literature and fine art from Alaska.

All three poets will not only hold readings but also will participate in numerous other activities to showcase poets in the three communities they will visit.

"Many members of our communities don't have the resources to purchase books online and public artistic performances are limited," wrote Glaser in her grant proposal. "Our libraries are key resources for these materials and programs in our remote communities. PoetryNorth will be a high-profile program bringing a series of Alaskan poets to our communities to inspire, entertain and ultimately bring about a change in the reading habits of its participants."

Stay tuned for more information on dates and times for visiting poets in Barrow, as well as the dates for Hope's and Shumaker's trips to Kotzebue.

For more information on Kane's upcoming visit and activities, call 442-2410.

The preceding article was originally published in The Arctic Sounder and is reprinted here with permission.