I have been teaching at UNF since 1987. Before that, for nine years, I lived in Fairbanks, Alaska. I have lived elsewhere, but was born long ago in place far away, -- Providence, Rhode Island. Place always creeps into my poems, although it sometimes takes a long time.
The poems recorded here begin with a few about my family and reflect a New England of black tombstones behind stone-walls, Puritan sensibilities and devastating Irish Catholic guilt.
The Alaska poems come of out light so white it is blue and long days of darkness. A number report the life and death of my daughter, Miranda, who lived only a few months.
Some few words in these particular poems are taken from Inupiaq, the language of Miranda’s father, Kenneth, who was Inupiat, or northern Eskimo.
The word for caribou is tutu, imitating the sound made by their hooves on frozen tundra.
Caribou sinew is used in string games to teach young Inuit children an exquisite sense of direction, since they live in landscape of frozen ground and sea without trees or natural landmarks; getting lost can be fatal.
The title of this recording, Story knife, refers to a Yu’pik (southern) Eskimo tradition. When a girl reaches adolescence, her father carves her an ivory knife from a seal tusk. This is her voice. As she tells stories with her friends, they draw on smoothed snow or mud. Some of the drawing is free form, but villages have ideographs peculiar to them—a way to tell a spirit from a human, for example, or a character for bear.
The final poems here are a tentative beginning at speech about the faith and grace I have been blessed to find in some southern churches over the last decades.
Next: I am now working on a series, perhaps to be called Southern Shade. It is about preaching trees, drinking trees, mechanic trees, pine oaks, and all manner of trees that we gather under.
I wish to thank Ari, for his encouragement and kindness; this project absolutely would not have happened without his being the extraordinary person he is.
Mary Baron is the author of LETTERS FOR THE NEW ENGLAND DEAD (David Godine Publishers), WHEAT AMONG BONES: POEMS (Sheep Meadow Press), and STORYKNIFE: NEW AND SELECTED POEMS (Sheep Meadow Press).
Her books can be purchased online from Sheep Meadow Press and at Amazon.