Wednesday, September 19, 2012

dg nanouk okpik's Corpse Whale

Okpik Street in Barrow, Alaska

Corpse Whale by dg nanouk okpik has just been published by the University of Arizona Press. Dg is a graduate of the Institute of American Indian arts, where I have taught--and been taught in turn--for 22 years. She is Inupiaq Inuit originally from Alaska's Arctic Slope. Her family resides in Barrow, Alaska. She holds a BFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts and an MFA in Creative Writing from Stonecoast College.

Her work is imagistic, but also linguistically and sonically rich. I was asked by the press to write a blurb, but the request came at a time when I just couldn’t get it done. Blurbs are difficult. One doesn’t want to make extraordinary claims, but one also doesn’t want to understate a poet's or a book’s promise. So I failed to come up with a usable blurb in time. However, near the deadline I dreamed a blurb that turned out to be too odd to use in marketing a book. I awoke one morning with the line “If the ears could speak, this is the language they would use” in my head.  Although those words might not help sell copies, I stand by my dreamwords. Corpse Whale bridges the intuitive and the scientific, the traditional and contemporary, through a language that derives both from dg's traditional culture and language and the sonic legacy of poets like T. S. Eliot and Dylan Thomas. 

(By the way, a corpse whale is a narwhal, whose name is derived from the Old Norse word nár, meaning "corpse," which refers to the animal's greyish, mottled pigmentation, like that of a drowned sailor.)

My former colleague, Arthur Sze, wrote a beautiful essay introducing dg’s work here:

One of dg’s poems can be found here:

Here is dg’s website: 

Buy the book from one of our local independent bookstores (Collected Works, as everyone knows, is my favorite). Support face-to-face contact before it disappears altogether:

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