September 03, 2014
Would you describe the particular challenges of writing a piece like “Alphabet of Bones” (published in Issue 3 of the Saranac Review)? How do you sustain a long poem? How is the process of writing a long poem different for you than writing a shorter one?
“Alphabet of Bones” was probably the first long poem I ever wrote. It was the material of the poem that required the larger format. It’s a landscape poem about the vast, wide-open landscape of the northern forest-tundra, where caribou make their epic journey in unfathomably enormous herds. It simply required a large canvas. The poem refers to the construction of a colossal hydroelectric project and the consequent reconfiguration of the landscape. I don’t think it’s not a subject that can be dealt with in a short poem. Over a period of four years I made many visits to the aboriginal communities that were opposing these projects – communities that have a 9,000 year history with a particular place. So I was responding to the sense of a millennial connection to place, something that is foreign to a culture that can’t remember as far back as last week.