Vivian Faith Prescott, accompanied by dogs Kéet and Oscar, holds Alaska’s literary journals in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Vivian Faith Prescott, accompanied by dogs Kéet and Oscar, holds Alaska’s literary journals in Wrangell. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Planet Alaska: Poetry lives and thrives in Alaska

We’ve been listening to poetry for a long time in Southeast Alaska.

  • By Vivian Faith Prescott For the Capital City Weekly
  • Wednesday, January 18, 2023 1:19pm
  • News

A recent New York Times opinion piece declared “Poetry is dead.” Obviously, we poets around the world set the author straight. Poetry is not dead; in fact, it’s especially thriving in Alaska. Alaskan poets are reading, writing, winning awards, and getting our work out there into the world. Yes, both your Planet Alaska columnists are poets.

Mainly, the author of the New Yorl Times article argues that poetry isn’t alive because readers can’t relate. He also says we can’t write good poetry because our modern life has alienated us from nature, especially the mystical side of nature. The author doesn’t mention the thousands of years of Indigenous oral poetry/storytelling. I’m thinking he’s never heard Ishmael Hope tell a story or read Richard and Nora Dauenhauer’s books on Tlingit oral traditions. The stories are filled with poetry.

We’ve been listening to poetry for a long time in Southeast Alaska. Poetry grieves at our memorials, dances at our weddings, and wanders with us on our favorite trail. Poetry curls up with us in the winter. Poetry sales surged during the pandemic when people were looking for comfort and answers. Poetry lives and thrives on social media like Twitter, Instagram, and more. Poetry is now an NFT (Non Fungible Token) and being offered as Etherpoems on the Ethereum blockchain. Yes, I’m still wrapping my head around this trend and trying to learn the terminology.

Vivian Faith Prescott holds two poetry collections by Alaska Native poets. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Vivian Faith Prescott holds two poetry collections by Alaska Native poets. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

For years now, I’ve been celebrating poetry at Bookmas, or as Icelanders call it, a Jolabokaflod (Book Flood), Iceland’s book giving tradition. Islanders give books as holiday gifts on Christmas Eve and until the New Year, it’s read, read. Mostly, I read poetry, but I’ll toss in memoir and fiction too. Truthfully, I’d love a book flood numerous times a year. Poetry for Valentine’s Day, poetry for Mother’s Day, the Solstice, and Grandparent’s Day, for Labor Day and whatever holiday I can make an excuse to buy books, because my brain needs books.

Poetry is brain candy. It’s a treat for the brain. Or more like, poetry is “the first salmonberry of the season for your brain” or “the first taste of smoked salmon for your brain.” Here’s a challenge for you, Dear Reader: Read more Alaskan poets this year. Pick up a poetry collection, even if you don’t understand poetry, or don’t like poetry. For those of you hesitant to indulge, think of poetry (poems) as medicine for the world. We can all benefit from a dose.

Poetry also fits into our busy lives. Our attention spans are shorter now, so media ads are getting shorter. Articles are getting shorter. We even enjoy short podcasts. When it comes down to the basics, poetry is really a small snippet of life, an image, or a story that’s typically told on one page. Though when you read poetry, you might have to suspend the Western worldview of a story having a beginning, middle, and end, because sometimes the story (poem) is still going on in your brain after you leave the page. If you can look at a photograph of seals lounging on an iceberg or listen to your best friend tell you the funny thing that happened when they were trying to buy eggs at the grocery store, then you can read a poem.

In December, just about every media agency releases a list of their favorite books. This year, Anchorage Daily News’ book reviewer, Nancy Lord, included my poetry collection, “Old Woman with Berries in Her Lap” along with Juneau poet Emily Wall’s “Breaking into Air” among some of the best Alaskan fiction and non-fiction books of 2022. It’s a rarity that poetry makes these lists.

This photo shows Vivian Faith Prescott’s new poetry collection in Wrangell, Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

This photo shows Vivian Faith Prescott’s new poetry collection in Wrangell, Alaska. (Courtesy Photo / Vivian Faith Prescott)

Claiming poetry is dead is not new. I’ve seen headlines from 2012, 2013, 2015, 2018, and so on, so I’m not sure which obituary is accurate. But, since we know that Alaskan poetry is not dead, let’s have a celebration. Let’s read more poetry this year!

Here are some poetry books that came out in 2022 (with a couple exceptions) that Planet Alaska recommends. This is not a complete list. There are more poets and books I could recommend. Many of these poets are my dear friends. In this list, I’ve included two accomplished Alaska Native poets currently living outside of Alaska.

Give the list a look. Many of these books can be checked out from your public library as well as can be found at your independent bookstores and gift shops. So go explore Alaskan poets. Also, if there’s a local reading happening, venture out and listen. You can even check with 49 Writers or other Alaskan writerly organizations to find out what online readings are happening. Because I’m not risking going out in public yet, I recently held a Zoom celebration of Alaskan poets for Alaska Book Week. We limited the participants to 15 poets or so, but there were so many more poets that I’m considering a second reading. Poetry in Alaska is thriving! I facilitate two Zoom writing groups, one is for southeast Alaskans, Blue Canoe Writers, and the other is a Zoom group for beginning poets, Drumlin Poets. You can also sign up for a poetry class at UAS or take an independent poetry class from many poets across the country.

This photo shows “Breaking Into Air” by Emily Wall. (Courtesy Photo / Emily Wall)

This photo shows “Breaking Into Air” by Emily Wall. (Courtesy Photo / Emily Wall)

Planet Alaska Poetry List

— “In the Current Where Drowning is Beautiful” by Abigail Chabitnoy.

— “Raven’s Echo” by Robert Davis Hoffman Xhaashujeet.

— “Tender Gravity” by Marybeth Holloman.

— “Dark Traffic” by Joan Naviyuk Kane.

— “Be Hooved” by Mar Ka.

— “Blood Snow” by dg nanouk okpik.

— “Old Woman with Berries in Her Lap” by Vivian Faith Prescott.

— “Breaking into Air” by Emily Wall.

— “Growing Older in this Place” by Margo Wasserman Waring.

This image shows the cover of “In the Current Where Drowning is Beautiful,” by Abigail Chabitnoy. (Wesleyan University Press)

This image shows the cover of “In the Current Where Drowning is Beautiful,” by Abigail Chabitnoy. (Wesleyan University Press)

Some of Alaska’s Literary Journals: Alaska Quarterly Review; Cirque Literary Journal; Tidal Echoes; and Loud & Queer.

There are many other books published by Alaskan poets in the last few years that we recommend reading: “Rock Piles Along the Eddy” by Ishmael Angaluuk Hope, “Curating the House of Nostalgia” by Kersten Christensen and “Open the Dark” by Marie Tozier. And due to be published in 2023 is “Corvus and Crater” by Erin Coughlin Hollowell.

Southeast Alaska independent bookstores will be happy to place a lovely poetry book in your hands. In 2023, flood your life with poetry. Fill up your spirit and your brain. Take your good medicine. Taste that poetry book like the first salmonberry of the season. You’ll thank me if you do.

• Wrangell writer and artist Vivian Faith Prescott writes “Planet Alaska: Sharing our Stories” with her daughter, Yéilk’ Vivian Mork. It appears twice per month in the Capital City Weekly.

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