Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday Muse: Alaska's State Writer Laureate

Peggy Shumaker has succeeded Nancy Lord as Alaska's State Writer Laureate. (I wrote about Lord and the position in July; go here for that post.) She began her two-term term in the honorary, unpaid position on October 1.

* * * * * 
We find our ways to transform—
we transform what we cannot make better.
And we transform it into art if we're lucky....
~ Peggy Shumaker*

Peggy Shumaker, a resident of Fairbanks, Alaska, has published a half-dozen collections of poetry, including, most recently, Gnawed Bones (Red Hen Press, 2010), Blaze (Red Hen Press, 2005), which features paintings by Kesler Woodward, and Underground Rivers (Red Hen Press, 2002). She also is the author of two chapbooks, Braided River (Limner Press, 1993) and Greatest Hits (Pudding House Press, 2006), and a memoir, Just Breathe Normally (University of Nebraska Press, 2007; Bison Books, 2009), which describes her recovery from a freak bicycle accident that almost claimed her life. 

Nature figures prominently in Shumaker's work, but it is not the nature of sylvan glens, pastoral woodlands, and sprites. Nature caught in Shumaker's lens is made up of "rivers inside the ice / heaving splits" ("Exit Glacier"), "skulls of pack rats / crushed into owl pellets" ("Gnawed Bones"), "the crackling shock / of tumbling ice" ("Constellations"), the redtail's / open season, hawk/grace/hunger / on the wing" ("Hunger on on the Wing"), "Corrugated hailstorms" and "the dead sure / bite of all we fear" ("Calls of Birds We Cannot See"). Shumaker maps the terrain of her poems by populating them with horny toads, howler monkeys, stoats, otters, moose, snakes, bats, and cranes that "graze, pace, graze, then / flap scuttle jabber scold" ("What Will Remain"); we find them (and ourselves) in places where "the sky  turns / gray angora" ("Autumn") and "blue-white sun / barely lifts above the ridge", leaving one "breathing hard rare frosted light" ("Long Before We Got Here, Long After We're Gone"). 

Shumaker writes short, tight, precise, and elegant lines. She creates striking imagery, as in "In Praise, Ephemera" (". . . ice dams hold tight / jostled swathes of half-lace ice. / Knife-edged narrow / leads open, sliced river swollen."). Often, she uses alliteration to wonderful effect, as in "Winter" from Blaze ("Hip deep in heaped snow / birches sway. . . ",  "Sun on the birches' / broken places. . . ", "Winter sun showing us / our shadows"). And she is clear-eyed about our place in the universe:

. . .
What will remain
has always remained—

water seized
by ice-driven air,

faith through hard cold
that the languages

of marsh, sky,
sandhill crane

will keep on
with us or without.
~ From "What Will Remain" in Underground Rivers 

A contributing editor of Alaska Quarterly Review, Shumaker is also on the advisory board for the Prairie Schooner Book Prize series and Red Hen Press and has been a poet-in-residence at Bucknell University's Stadler Center for Poetry, as well as writer-in-residence for the Arizona Commission on the Arts; in the latter capacity, she worked with school children, the elderly, deaf adults, prison inmates, and gang members.

Recipient of a National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, Shumaker has published poems in many literary magazines, including Alaska Quarterly Review, Verse Daily, The Salt River Review, and Blackbird, as well as in an array of anthologies, including The Poets Guide to the Birds (Anhinga, 2009) and Women's Work: Modern Women Poets Writing in English (Seren, 2009). (Go here for a selected list of anthologies in which Shumaker has published.)

In 2008, Shumaker founded Boreal Books, an imprint of Red Hen Press, through which she publishes the work of Alaska writers. Professor emerita at University of Alaska/Fairbanks, Shumaker teaches in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.


All Poetry Excerpts © Peggy Shumaker

Interview (Video and Text) at Arizona State University's Books & Co., April 2009 (Shumaker earned her M.F.A. in Creative Writing at ASU.)

Interview (Podcast of Episode 15) at A River & Sound Review (Available via iTunes)

Michele Poulos, Review of Just Breathe Normally in Blackbird, Fall 2008

Alaska State Council on the Arts, Literary Arts

Alaska Writers Announcement, October 5, 2010 (pdf)

49 Alaska Writing Center and 49 Writers Blog

Peggy Shumaker's "Oatmeal" at Poetry Daily

Peggy Shumaker's "What to Count On" and "The Story of Light" at Poetry Foundation

Poetic Dialogue Project: Poet Peggy Shumaker ("In Praise, Ephemera") and Artist Laura Ann Cloud (Mixed Media Installation, "Ephemera: A Conversation")

Peggy Shumaker on FaceBook

YouTube Video of Peggy Shumaker Reading Her Work:


M.L. Gallagher said...

Thank you for introducing me to Peggy -- what powerful and provocative imagery she creates with her words.

I would never have known any of these poets without your generosity in bringing them to my attention.


Kathleen Overby said...

I wanna be fry bread - my emptiness, honeyed.

Listening to her reading was a pleasure. :)

S. Etole said...

she captures the harsh beauty of the land there ...