ALASKAPHRENIA by CHRISTINE HUMEBRITTA AMEEL Reviews
Alaskaphrenia by Christine Hume
(New Issues Press, 2004)
[First published in CUTBANK, Ed. by Brandon Shimoda, 2006]
There are 39 poems in Christine Hume’s Alaskaphrenia, 72 words between “language” and “landscape” in the Oxford English Dictionary, and Alaska is the 49th state at a latitude of 54° 40' N to 71° 50' N and a longitude 130° W to 173° E. Hume counts, maps, mines, names, explores, lists, categorizes as the surveyor of her Alaska-of-the-mind. She surveys not only the literal landscape, replete with bears and moose, ice caves and ocean, mountains and planes. Hume also surveys the “poetic” language meant to arrange our uncontrollable internal states, where we “will be a bellwether bomber, you dream-bomb the last place: a dogsled dream, campfire dream, pioneer dream, pioneer, lynx, lynx, lynx.”
This surveyed Alaskan consciousness is under-punctuated, grammatically wild, written on scraps of paper edged with fire and water, folded several hundred times to fit in a pocket. Hume has “adopted an Alaskan ear long before; with it, it’s not unusual to hear from inside the hammer: stampeded terrain, yea, avalanche.” The inside of this hammer sounds, indeed, like avalanche: words shape-shift and metaphors crumble under sound:
Under these circulations
You could not wear cirrus the way cows do
Always your mange meant to be smoke
This associational, sound-driven logic (“lynx, lynx, lynx”) powers the surveyor’s 4x4, which explores the transforming and transformative nature of consciousness. And this particular Alaskan consciousness is ultimately both circular and fractured requiring prosaic and instructional structures to navigate: documents like brochures, diagrams, comprehension questions; structures like indices, instructions, explanations, translations, dialogues, do’s and don’ts. These are the maps pinned under otherwise confounding experience, and Hume instructs:
If you cannot work the Eskimo yo-yo, you must walk around and create a map inside your muscles. There, a secret heat makes air remember birds. In their flight, your absurd hands go to seed. Only the other day your pacing made something stop sleeping; it made nowhere a shook-out place.
And again: “Never let what you think fool you.”
The parallel Hume draws between the surveyor’s language and poetic language feels at every turn right for complicated consciousness. Yet, what startles most is the fact that both languages are essentially inaccurate, and indeed almost violate the very areas and emotions they are meant to represent. Hume’s act of surveying, though, exposes the rich veins of landscape and mind, which, though imperfect and impure, are made once again original and exquisite. This reader wouldn’t want it any other way, for Hume has
…outened the world
to show you real barenness:
a void a light
warps into want and then wants
until it warps all it glances.
Warp away, Hume, we’re with you on this expedition, counting as we go.
Britta Ameel received her MFA from University of Michigan. Her poems have appeared in Hayden's Ferry Review, New Orleans Review, Fugue, CutBank and others. She lives in San Francisco.