I would like to introduce you to the cover of my upcoming poetry collection, People of the Sea Ice. The image is c.1900s-1910s and was photographed by Whitney’s Photographic Studio (established in 1904).
This collection is the culmination of many months of hard work. It’s been the most challenging collection to write to date, as it’s the first book I’ve written since surfacing from my lengthy depressive episode of 2019-2020, during which I struggled to string together a sentence.
There has been a lot of inner turmoil, doubt, pain and anger during the writing. I was convinced my depression and the traumatic events of recent years had stolen the strongest of my poetic senses. However, the readers will have to be the judge of whether that’s true or not.
Though the doubt, pain and anger were also linked to several of the subjects I was covering – climate change, the impact of colonization on the lives of Arctic people, the blatant, humiliating, tragic ignorance of many modern-day qallunaat (white people.) There was also doubt as to what I should and could write about.
In previous years, it had never occurred to me that perhaps it wasn’t my place nor my right to share the stories of a culture that isn’t my own, but it’s been something that’s been weighing heavily on my mind since I wrote the first poem for this book. Yet, I had to write this book. I couldn’t not write this book. And I hope people will be understanding and, if needs be, forgiving of that.
There was a man in my life, many years ago, who shared a book about the Inuit with me. His infatuation for northern climes was intoxicating, and my time with him changed the course of my life. This book is as much for him as it is for the people of the sea ice as it is for you.
Nine times out of ten, the title of a book comes to me before anything else, but with this, I couldn’t for the life of me decide what I was going to call it. Naturally, this was bewildering and scary and led me to think, ‘should I be writing this at all?’ But, People of the Sea Ice was chosen with help from good friends, and nothing else would do.
I’ve never been to the Arctic, but my heart has visited every day for years. In time, I intend to sit with an Inuit family and eat muktuq sliced by an ulu. I plan to try on a pair of trousers made from polar bear furs and learn how to make akutuq. I hope to learn how to say ‘I see you, I hear you,’ in Inuktitut. And how to pronounce ‘thank you.’
I hope this collection speaks to you and that it takes your heart to the furthest north, where Nanuq wanders, and the aurora ignites the sky.