dg nanouk okpik’s Corpse Whale – Sifting through Myth and Time in the Far North

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Reading these poems is reminiscent of carefully digging through an archeological site located in Arctic permafrost as fossils, bones, carvings, memories and spirits emerge.

While looking for a few words to accompany a photo of umiaks (seal skin whaling boats) framed in Northern Lights I’d made a few years ago, I came across these lines from dg nanouk okpik’s poem “Tulunigraq: Something Like a Raven:”

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Okpik arranges her images across the page in a manner that forces the reader to go slowly, to breathe slowly, to see, and to hear, and as Barbra and I read, we felt ourselves being taken back – to Alaska’s North Slope, to the village of Point Hope and to other places we’d been in the far north, and then further back, to places we’ve never been – to old Tikigaq, to villages and settings scattered across Alaska and Greenland and beyond, to a time, indeed, “before iron and oil.”

Okpik’s writing is sure and precise, at times reminiscent of carefully sifting through an archeological dig, creating anticipation for what might be found and reverence for what is found. The place she invites the reader into is one of myth-making, spirituality, subsistence hunting and gathering, veneration of elders and ancestors and an intimacy with sinew and bone and cold. The landscape is of ice and sea, of magma cooling and the vast sweep of the tundra. Threaded through this are spirits and caribou, whales and ground squirrels, edible plants and seal oil lamps, Eucharist wafers and hooligan jigs. Okpik has given us poems that take us to places and to times few of us have experienced or will experience. The journey is mesmerizing.

3 thoughts on “dg nanouk okpik’s Corpse Whale – Sifting through Myth and Time in the Far North

  1. Love it! I spent time above the Arctic Circle of the Nordic countries in 2009. At one point on my travels, heading north through Finland, I stayed with the Sami people at a permanent wintertime settlement. They are the original prehistoric indigenous reindeer herders of the circumpolar regions, and their genes can be found in peoples such as Mongols and Inuit. The experience made an unforgettably deep impression on my memory as the most exotic place and culture I have experienced in my travels. What an amazing experience you & Barbra had, too! You will never forget it, either. Keep up the great work, it enriches my Soul.

    • Wow… we would love to visit Finland and experience the Sami culture. It’s fascinating to us how connected, in many ways, are these cultures of the north – and the connection with the Altai Mountains in Western Mongolia. Thanks for an interesting comment, Gerowyn.

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