the Joan Kane
Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of poetry and prose collections including The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife (2009), Hyperboreal (2013), The Straits (2015), Milk Black Carbon (2017), A Few Lines in the Manifest (2018), Sublingual (2018), and Another Bright Departure (2019). Inupiaq with family from King Island (Ugiuvak) and Mary’s Igloo, Alaska, Kane is the 2019-2020 Hilles Bush Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study, and Kane was a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow in Poetry. She has been the recipient of the Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, the American Book Award, the Alaska Literary Award, the United States Artists Foundation Creative Vision Award, and fellowships and residencies from the Rasmuson Foundation, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, the School for Advanced Research, the Aninstantia Foundation, the Hermitage Artist Retreat and the Lannan Foundation. She has been a finalist for the PEN USA Literary Award, the Poetry Foundation’s Ruth Lilly Prize, and the Dorset Prize. She currently raises her sons as a single mother in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She was a founding faculty member of the graduate program in creative writing at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and currently teaches in the Department of Studies in Race, Colonialism, and Diaspora at Tufts University.
The Cormorant Hunter's Wife
These poems are much more than verbal constructs, though their language alone is enough to keep you reading. Joan Kane’s mind spends much time with itself; her eye sees itself as part of the landscape, which in this collection is meticulously rendered, “a bewilderment of white.” She does not find metaphors for life in the wilderness, but rather observes patterns of nature that life bears out. Hers is a voice without cultural or self-reference, a voice without verbal-technics -- as rare and stark as the main climatic idiosyncrasy of these poems, “a year of two winters.’”
The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife is a groundbreaking collection of poems made of one long breath. The breath is enough to carry you the distance it takes to fly to the moon and return in one long winter night. I have been looking for the return of such a poet. Joan Kane crafts poems as meticulous as snowflakes. She is visionary and the poems carry this vision with solid grace.
These poems are original, unsentimental, plain, and mysterious. There is something of Lorine Niedecker’s Wisconsin, and something of Willa Cather’s Nebraska or New Mexico in Joan Kane’s Alaska. And something more, “on the border of speech,” which yet gives us a new sense -- or maybe retrieves an old sense-- of experience. Sometimes, in these poems, description, and what we cannot quite find words for, underneath it, are enough; in fact, more than we would have known how to ask for: a lost people -- a shaman’s voice -- the voice of a glacier -- of a shell? “In a room in which you’re found at every margin / Forgetting you is nothing but a long discipline.”
“Arnica nods heavy-headed on the bruised slope.” In these vivid, disturbing, and mysterious poems, written in English and Inupiaq, Joan Kane writes out of the landscape and language of the far north. Hyperboreal is situated at a threshold between cultures, between inner and outer worlds, and the poems are voiced with a “knife blade at the throat’s slight swell.” Her compelling vision is earned through a language that will dislocate in order to relocate and whose tonal shifts are exact and exacting.
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.”
—G. C. Waldrep
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.
Joan Naviyuk Kane is Inupiaq with family from King Island (Ugiuviak), Alaska, and her work reveals a hunger for the landscape, for a language embedded in the land and in the traditional lifeways of the people, her people, who have lived there. But Kane’s world extends beyond the boundaries of water and ice. The straits she navigates as a contemporary woman are churned by the pressures of multiple worlds. A Harvard graduate with a dazzling literary career, Kane writes with one foot in her cultural tradition and a second in the world of contemporary poetics. Her poems condense at the intersection of gender and race and power relations. With gorgeous, precisely honed language and arresting imagery, Kane interrogates love and displacement, identity and obligation, loss and home.
Milk Black Carbon
The black ink of a strong, strong hand. A rare and real word-world, mind-muscled into serious relief, stopped into dream and meaning.
—Olena Kalytiak Davis
Milk Black Carbon is at once a brilliant work of lyric art and a decoding of knowledges written "in the dark cursive of a wolf / circling on sea ice." Kane’s is a vertiginous sensibility, chiseled into language in a precarious time, as the rising seas "rephrase us." She writes in English and Inupiaq Eskimo, toward a horizon of radical futurity, against nostalgia, with awareness that there is no turning back. This is a twenty-first-century poetry, urgent, necessary, and of its time.
Her latest book of poetry contains themes of motherhood and the relationships between land and peoples, and ever present is her unmatched mastery of form and language. . . . Unique to Milk Black Carbon is the palpable sense of urgency throughout the poems.
—Jen Rose Smith
A Few Lines in the Manifest
In Manifest, Kane, a poet from Anchorage and a 2018 Guggenheim Fellow who is on the faculty of the Institute of American Indian Arts, has written a four-part lyric essay about her Inupiaq family and their traditional home of King Island, in the Bering Sea.
After Alaska achieved statehood in 1959, the Bureau of Indian Affairs closed the island's school and forced the children to be educated on the mainland. Without their children to help prepare for winter, adults and elders had no choice but to leave the island as well. Returning, even for a visit, isn't easily accomplished. Reading about it isn't easy, either, because Kane makes the experience intellectually and psychologically rigorous. The writing is somewhat frenetic and sometimes relentlessly fragmented; Kane often addresses the reader directly or makes other kinds of asides. The latter portions engage in a dialogue with Melville's Moby-Dick (and other classic texts), the meaning of which seems less relevant to a reader's understanding than the ability to absorb the linguistic kaleidoscope Kane employs.
Kane displays such an ease in her prose, able to twist and turn complexities across a rather large canvas, one I’m hoping might eventually be larger than the four pieces collected here. Through four interconnected essays, this collection very much explores the relationships between, as she suggests, culture, language and survival, and is an important conversation during an era that attempts to (or wishes to attempt to) engage with any kind of reconciliation.
In Sublingual, Kane creates an earth on which all things are evidently their own opposites, endless and utterly bereft. These poems are catchy and thrilling and expose the violence of time and, inside it, our human vibrancy and violence. Every line—every word—is unexpected and exactly right. An encapsulation of a white landscape that bursts its capsule and gleams a thousand hues.
The poems in Joan Kane‘s SUBLINGUAL don’t flinch, display a fist. If a fist can be a heart and the arrow through it a pen. Kane’s images and language arrest and attest to a future, a present, a past that is melting against “vehement light.” There’s no need for fret or worry, however. However, it’s time to take note, to look back at what’s looking at you. Breathe these poems, be at mercy to the wind.
–Bojan Louis, author of Currents
Joan Kane‘s chapbook Sublingual dissolves under the tongue like a pill, a medicine that tastes like melting glaciers and displaced cultures, except it doesn’t solve, it only soothes, and it’s a complicated soothing, making distinctions been “stress puking” and “party puking,” which like the poems here enact a push-and-pull of modes: urgent warnings and sinuous meditations and letters to friends and fragments of stories. It’s a fresh introduction to this important and exciting poet’s work. In Sublingual, Joan Kane is an Arctic Rimbaud who sees images of vivid defeat and unlikely persistence, and “inflects them with purpose,” investigating “how many rules of the brute’s brutish language” she can “break in one poem,” pursuing dark passages and open waters, disappearing forests, with a head “in its fine blank way an original, ”an adventuring Alice pursuing “what is left of the woods… what is left of me.”
Some Long-Ago Appearances
Library of Congress [interview :: The Borders of Ourselves Along the Contours of Tradition]
rob mcclennan's blog [interview :: 12 or 20 questions]
rob mcclennan's blog [REVIEW of A Few Lines in the Manifest]
The Guardian [not the Trump poem, but prose this time]
Arkansas International Review [one poem online, the rest in print]
Boston Review [ proem]
Colorado Review [in print]
HEART BERRIES GO BUY IT AGAIN
Crosscurrents: Joan Kane and Roger Reeves [february 2017]
VIDA Voices and Views [awp2017]
IAIA MFA Winter Readers Gathering [january 2017]
boston review [national poetry month 2016] three poems
south as a state of mind [issue #7] documenta 14 #2 three poems