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When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 2)

July 4, 2011

(part one, part two, part three, part four, part five, part six, part seven)

When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and the Politics of Difference in True Blood (continued…)

The point is not that there is an original or definitive version of this song that we can invest with the authority from which all others are judged. Rather, my interest stems from what is edited out of the versions most closely aligned with the Inuit speakers who either first composed them or exchanged the songs for whatever reason (friendship, trade, memorials, etc) and how they then circulates in a variety of texts and spaces. Without even considering the effect of the internet on the transmission and editing of these poems, we can look at the phenomena of the so-called edited volumes of “Eskimo poetry.” Including Carpenter’s Anerca (1959), I have five “books of Eskimo poetry” in my possession and that’s just a poor sampling from a library in California: Beyond the High Hills: A Book of Eskimo Poems (1961); Richard Lewis’ I Breathe a New Song: Poems of the Eskimo (1971); Tom Lowenstein’s Eskimo Poems from Canada and Greenland (1973); and John Robert Colombo’s Poems of the Inuit (1981).

Almost all of the poems in these collections come from Rasmussen’s or Diamond Jenness’ collections and the same few “favorites” are repeated throughout. All of these volumes begin with an elegiac introduction lamenting the loss or soon to be lost “traditional” or “authentic” or “pure” Eskimo and Eskimo song. Or, if not quite stated in these terms, the penchant for “disappearance” is certainly what the editors find most alluring about their subject matter. Carpenter asserts: “In neither [the new or old poems] do [the] poets take care to be remembered as individuals; but simply disappear, as it were, behind their works; the poems, therefore, have been assigned to neither singers nor makers.” Lewis writes: “This book grew out of my interest in the literature of indigenous peoples…My hope is that this collection will help preserve a culture that began to disappear in 1955, when encounters with modern technology, information, and life patterns began to destroy Eskimo life as it had been lived for over 1300 years.” And Colombo: “I appreciate these texts as I do Canadian poems…[unfortunately there] may come a time when the poems included in this collection will no longer be known in Inuktitut. The language itself may soon disappear.” Lowenstein also speaks of loss and “lastness” although he and Colombo both take pains to give individuality to the speakers of the poems, recognizing, like Rasmussen, what is gained by preserving “a picture of Eskimo song that does not just add up to a generalized aspect of a homogeneous folk-culture, where the singer subordinated his style and subject-matter to the norms of the group.”

Unlike the previous claims of a radical lack of subjectivity that denies a singer desire, motivation, or even complex thought processes (Carpenter) or somewhat presumptively sounds the death knell of Inuit culture and language (Lewis, Colombo), the last statement by Lowenstein regarding Rasmussen’s contribution to the study of Inuit songs and the singers of them is important for considering what happens when the Inuit song in question loses some of the most evocative lines and then ends up on a hit TV show.

As a somewhat pertinent aside, I have never actually read the “my small adventures” poem in Rasmussen. I had almost the entire collection of the Report in my possession a while back, missing only…volume 9. I hope to rectify this oversight soon. And hopefully next week I will get around to talking about poetry in an Inuit context!

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From → Literature, Poems

9 Comments
  1. Hi there! Do you use Twitter? I’d like to follow you if that would be okay.
    I’m definitely enjoying your blog and look forward to
    new posts.

    • Thank you for your interest, I’m glad you’ve stopped by! As of right now, I do not have a Twitter account; I will certainly let everyone on the blog know when I get that up and going. Don’t hold your breath, though; as you can see, sometimes it takes me a little while to get things done. That said, I do have some new posts in the works so be sure to come back!

      And if you have anything to add to any of the discussions or have a northern topic or event you would like to share, don’t hesitate to jump in!

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. The North in music « arcticisms
  2. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 1) « arcticisms
  3. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 4) « arcticisms
  4. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 3) « arcticisms
  5. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 5) « arcticisms
  6. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 6) « arcticisms
  7. When the Great Day Dawns: Inuit and True Blood (part 7) « arcticisms

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