Joan Naviyuk Kane is Inupiaq, with family from King Island (Ugiuvak) and Mary’s Igloo, Alaska. She is the author of The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, and Milk Black Carbon. In addition to serving as the 2021 Mary Routt Chair of Creative Writing and Journalism at Scripps College, she teaches poetry and creative nonfiction in the Department of English at Harvard University, is a lecturer in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora at Tufts University, and is faculty in the graduate creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts.
Dark Traffic creates landmarks through language, by which its speakers begin to describe traumas in order to survive and move through them. With fine detail and observation, these poems work in some way like poetic weirs: readers of Kane’s work will see the arctic and subarctic, but also, more broadly, America, and the exigencies of motherhood, indigenous experience, feminism, and climate crises alongside the near-necropastoral of misogyny, violence, and systemic failures. These contexts catch the voice of the poems’ speakers, and we perceive the currents they create.
Excerpt from “Dark Traffic”
Consolation may turn out to be a guttural
practice, after all, the small gesture
of sound lodged deep before it glides
without warning downward.
There is nothing but the wind, a howl
and dive where water is thrown
over water and sown into it.
Milk Black Carbon works against the narratives of dispossession and survival that mark the contemporary experience of many indigenous people, and Inuit in particular. In this collection, autobiographical details – motherhood, marriage, extended family and its geographical context in the rapidly changing arctic – negotiate arbitrary landscapes of our perplexing frontiers through fragmentation and interpretation of conventional lyric expectations.
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.