A brutal and beautiful book whose poems strain the lyric through concrete and confessional modes, translation, and unforgettable evocations of land and people burdened with—but not defined by—the legacies of colonial atrocity. Dark Traffic is a ravishing achievement—one of our best poets, at the height of her powers.
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.
Whether by intellect shot through with feeling, or feeling sharp with intellect, Joan Naviyuk Kane’s Dark Traffic is a vigorous account of [Cold War] communication systems, complicity, and [self] inquiry. Rich with experimentation and a clear ethic of attentiveness, Dark Traffic is an indomitable, resonant book.
Oscillating between presence and absence, mother, daughter, woman, inhabiting the ‘rift into language and grit,’ Kane reveals the ways we are made and unmade and made again. Dark Traffic is the poet at her most vulnerable—and most powerful.
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.