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ALASKA POEMS (Version 2)
Author: Dan Shanahan
Genre: Poetry
Registry #: poe001
 

The Alaska Poems started with my arrival there in the fall of 1973 and continued to evolve after my departure in 1978. I was mesmerized by the images of animals and people passing over the land bridge and by the fundamental impulse that moved the herds to migration.

The Village
The book begins in the Village and tells of an elderly Eskimo woman and her spiritual migration, how "she carried her tired body as far as she could and then left it behind on the tundra." In the small village of Point Lay while observing gray whale migrations, I experienced perhaps the most peaceful days of my life.

"Night, the silent hunter breaches the deep in the old umiak (skin boat) of darkness."

The last poem in this section tracks the final voyage of Vitus Bering. This poem is based upon the actual logs of the brutal expedition that claimed Alaska for Russia.

The Cabin
The poems move from the village to a one-room cabin north of Fairbanks. Here one discovers the isolation and darkness of the "ages of arctic ice". I recall coming upon salmon in a creek at the end of their run:

"We are all forced by some map of memory to the ground of our making in the shallows pools of the infinite."

The Camps
Four years in construction camps from the Yukon River to Prudhoe Bay revealed trailer cities replete with gambling, murder and prostitution. These camps housed life-long construction boomers from Greenland, India and Africa living in their cars and tents waiting for jobs in the crowded, smoke filled union halls. The camps were home to twenty thousand men and women from Prudhoe Bay to Valdez looking for big money like the gold miners of yesteryear.

Surrounding the camps beyond the Brooks Range and the tree line was a world of visions, the wilderness of space, the dream like state of fox pups loping across the flats in search of goose eggs. It is where I realized

"the poem as sanctuary for the images of the earth, the ancient stone where all my people live."

It is where I sensed in the air, the animals, the earth and the weather a living mythology and the possibility that

"In the obedient core of planets, an unnamed god wildly dances."

 

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