Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North
Published by Cirque Press Books, 2019
When the full moon rises over the hills
of Wrangell in midsummer, our quadrant tangles
in spruce trees & mist. In its beauty
is also its pain. It is at peak only for an instant
before it begins to wane & we harbor
beneath its filtered silver light
for only one night under the shredding sky.
A white-tailed doe swims across
the neck of Anita Bay to Etolin Island,
resolute against the tug of the ebbing tide,
glancing at the MV Tahoma,
its crew of seven, then quickly
eyes the land once more. We are reminded
of the animal need for wariness;
we are confident she will make shore.
We cast our shrimp pot in Santa Anna Inlet,
but it comes up empty, save for inedible
sculpin & juvie halibut. We wish the rafted
pair of purse seiners near us better luck because
we know that fish are fickle & feed where they must,
setting a course away from our great sea hunger.
Mystical and visual—Karla Linn Merrifield’s latest volume of poems, Athabaskan Fractal: Poems of the Far North, takes the reader on a monumental journey across the Far North of the American continent. Here is a collection that is surpassingly beautiful. Here is a reverence for nature where lush descriptions abound. Here is life in all its extravagance and austerity conveyed in poems of intimate details of texture and form and set against the vast sweep of endless space from sea to shining sea. You’ll quickly discover why Merrifield is widely regarded as a supreme observer of the Earth’s majesty. And you’ll come to appreciate her photographic eye for beauty in the dozens of photographs illustrating the poems.
No place is changing as fast as the north on our overheating planet, and so no place deserves the kind of loving scrutiny these poems provide.
– Bill McKibben, Schumann Distinguished Scholar, Middlebury College
In poems of intimacy and celebration, elegy and generous mythologizing, Karla Linn Merrifield’s new book is teeming with the “minute particulars” of her Alaskan travels. Here you will find that the fir trees, the mists, the creatures, the stones themselves come lovingly alive. But in our 21st-century world of ecospheric drama and disarray, the ‘field guide’ reveries are shot through with the stark realities of our desecrating human footprint. Athabaskan Fractal will take you places that Frommer’s and Lonely Planet can only dream of!
– Ralph Black, Professor of English, The College at Brockport (SUNY), and
author of Turning Over the Earth
To encounter the Far North is to confront great contrast: the seasonal flux of darkness and light, life in all its extravagance and austerity, intimate details of texture and form set against the vast sweep of endless space. And the North also is a place in which people are simultaneously at home in, and at war with, the world — a region warming at twice the global average. In Athabaskan Fractal, Karla Merrifield traverses this world of wonder and desire, sadness and loss. In her poems she focuses her (and our) attention on the beauty, depth, and expanse of this landscape and its residents, and the terrible tragedy wrought by our hydrocarbon-fueled dreams.
– Christopher Norment, Professor of Environmental Science and Ecology, The College at Brockport (SUNY), and author of Return to Warden’s Grove: Science, Desire, and the Lives of Sparrows
Mystical and visual—Karla Merrifield’s latest volume of poems, Athabascan Fractal, takes the reader to the Far North. One envies how she inhabits her poems’ subjects: she is the melting glacier becoming stream, a grizzly in valleys where blueberries abound. The North is sanctuary for her creative mind. I, too, have inhabited the same land as the place of my ethnographic research. I know Anaktuvuk Rose. I lived on the Misty Isles of Haida Gwaii. But, I know them as a social scientist. Poetry brings a different knowing: the doomed Franklin Expedition of 1845— “the dead weight of Arctic discovery.” In the end, remembering the North from afar in “Solstice Vocabulary,” Merrifield laments, “Things I tried to hold/ have slipped away as wolves/ into dense firs, as snow glints/ away in sunlight….But it is Wild I know I know/ for this first time in a lifetime/ and it is everything I am not,/ never.
– Dr. Margaret Blackman, Professor of Anthropology Emerita, The College at Brockport (SUNY), and author of During My Time: Eleanor Edenshaw Davidson, a Haida Woman
5.0 out of 5 stars— “Writing in a Wild Language with No Future Tense”
Reviewed by Laury A. Egan (United States, August 14, 2019)
“If I do not drown/ in the snowmelt stream/ I will become the mountain.” This evocative line from Karla Linn Merrifield’s passionate ode to the Far North sets the theme of the poet’s reverence for nature as well as her transmogrification into the natural wonders themselves – whales, ravens, cedars, the sea, in that she sometimes becomes that which she celebrates: “I am mountain./ I am boulder./ I am cobble./ I am pebble./ I am grain of sand./ I am lover,/ your Earth;/ I have Time/ for your Imagination.” Lush descriptions abound: “Rampant indigo peavines/ and buttery compositae in the timbered gloam/ became all the blue and yellow I could hold.” And: “Do not be afraid of the universe/ even when rainbows die in oil spills/ and wolves are chained to leashes.” As Merrifield writes, “living:/ in an expansive world beyond facts,/ writing in a wild language with no future tense,/ emptied of clocks, lost in time too large/ to be chopped like kindling into minutes.” Find a comfortable chair, turn off your devices, and savor this collection. My only comment is that the photographs are not high quality; many are not well reproduced. A lovely present for naturalists and vagabond travelers.
5.0 out of 5 stars— To the North — a poet writes
Reviewed by Quinn (United States, August 10, 2019)
Yes, a collection of poetry inspired by the uniqueness of a land I have spent over seven decades inhabiting. Unlike some collections of poetry where I find a gem of a poem and then wade through others seeking one of similar quality, this is a collection where every piece is a gem of its own: deserving contemplation, admiration, and time. These are poems that are not ego-driven but driven by thought, sensitivity, and mature, intelligent deliberation. Of course, my familiarity with these locales enables me to appreciate Karla Linn Merrifield’s poetry in my own way, but my guess is that any soul, anywhere, can appreciate the love and distinct ability this author displays in what she writes about. This poet is confident and compassioned. This is not a read to be hurried. From the treachery of Queen Charlotte Sound with “The calm deliberate pilot in his wheelhouse of trust” to the Brooks Range where “sheefish in a slough of granite bathe,” to Franklin’s Legacy in the Arctic, and on to elsewhere in the North. Insight is offered from watchful eyes. (And there is a bonus of wonderful artwork and photographs.)