Quirky Books: Eskimo Poems from Canada and Greenland

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Eskimo Poems from Canada and Greenland

A collection of various Eskimo Poems, Tom Lowenstein translated Rasmussen's work to English. Published by an International Poetry Forum Selection it is a part of the Pitt Poetry Series. The series was intended to highlight poetry from cultures with geographical and language barriers in English Speaking Countries.

Tom Lowenstein was born in 1941 near London. He studied at Cambridge and graduated from Northwestern University. Though he went to Alaska to study Eskimo Culture and Song, the book is almost entirely based on Rasmussen's translations of Eskimo Songs.

Knud Rasmussen was born in 1879. A Danish Anthropologist who spent the greater portion of his life living with Eskimos. His Christian family lived amongst Greenland Eskimos when he was a child. With several journeys to America he is most known for the Fifth Thule Expedition; wherein, he traveled across Canada and spent days, weeks or months with various tribes.

Though "Eskimo Poems form Canada and Greenland" focuses on songs, lengthy notes from Lowenstein and Rasmussen provide additional information for interpretation, it is confusing. Reading several poems, metaphors differs from Standard English Literature. Trying to find links between verses, notes explain how songs originate from several tribes with unique cultures and frequently forbid interaction between neighboring tribes.

Cultural norms vary greatly. Some tribes integrate Christianity, while others focus on Shamans for spiritual teachings. Some are bold, while others are inhibited. Most hunt on the ocean and ice caps, while one tribe would not be able to identify a seal. It is forbidden. They hunt caribou.

Reading the songs, word choices are odd. At times it appears insults are meant to empower people to strive. Depending on the use of a song, it might imply feeling small in the vast wilderness, while feeling strength through an omnipotent being.

Difficult analyzing poems, the introduction states Rasmussen spoke with Eskimos about translation and the importance of retaining a methodical pattern similar to original songs. The book is primarily interesting in relation to learning about Eskimo Culture. Attempting to properly understand it is time-consuming and a person will never know if their sense of the poem is correct. Anthropologist and psychologists will enjoy the book. Mystique is appealing to a larger audience.

Poetry Breakdown
A Hunting Memory from Ivaluardjuk Tribe