Hope explores indigenous thought in new book of poetry ‘Rock Piles Along the Eddy’

Ishmael Hope will read from his new book of poetry “Rock Piles Along the Eddy” Thursday at Kindred Post in downtown Juneau.

On a chilly blue-sky morning, Hope sits on the back porch of a valley home. It was a quiet place in house full of kids.

Ishmael Hope reads from a digital version of “Rock Piles Along the Eddy.” (Photo by Scott Burton/KTOO)

“Khaagwáask’ yéi xhat duwasáakw. My Tlingit name is Khaagwáask’. My Inupiaq name: Uvanga atinga Angaluuk. My name Inupiaq name is Angaluuk. And I am a poet and performer-storyteller, and I’m grateful to be here,” said Hope in introduction.

He wears his graying black hair in a ponytail, and small, reddish rectangular glasses frame his eyes above a full beard. To exemplify his work, Hope shared a piece called “Canoe Launching into the Gaslit Sea.”

Free time to speak with a reporter does not come easily to the artist. At 35 he’s the father of four, with—news flash—a fifth on the way with his wife, Tlingit weaver Lily Hope. Lily watched the children inside, but they needed to switch as soon as possible so she could weave—the deadline for her museum-commissioned Chilkat robe looms.

Hope will read from “Rock Piles Along the Eddy” at Kindred Post on Thursday at 7 p.m. (Photo by Ursala Hudson/Courtesy Ishmael Hope)

“A lot of what I was trying to do with this collection, ‘Rock Piles Along the Eddy,’ was explore indigenous thought,” said Hope.

Hope is also working on a master of fine arts degree in creative writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts, is co-directing a documentary on Tlingit art here at KTOO, and is working on curriculum for Goldbelt Heritage on Tlingit language learning.

Hope says he’s looking forward to reading with Ernestine Hayes and Christy NaMee Eriksen. “They’re some of the finest writers in Alaska — they build community,” says Hope. (Photo by Ursala Hudson/Courtesy Ishmael Hope)


“What does it mean to be indigenous?” continued Hope. “What does indigenous thinking and being and feeling — how does that translate into the world? How do we express that? How do we emit that? How do we let that, I think, waft, in the work, in the language?”

“Rock Piles Along the Eddy,” which is a reference to a Tlingit tradition of creating salmon-friendly eddies with rock piles, is 70-pages long with 44 poems.

“This is really not fashionable writing,” said Hope with a hearty laugh. “It’s not the thing that’s going to get awards and be prestigious, and I don’t care. I really don’t. You know, I’m trying to write the work that connects to people, connects to the community whether they’re poetry fans or whether they’ve never picked up a poetry book.”

Hope will be joined by the Alaska State Writer Laureate, Ernestine Hayes, and writer and community activist Christy Namee Eriksen at Kindred Post at 7 p.m. tonight.

Listen to Ishmael Hope read
“Canoe Launching into the Gaslit Sea”

Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we need to band together, form
a lost tribe, scatter as one, burst
through rifle barrels guided
by the spider’s crosshairs. We need
to knit wool sweaters for our brother
sleeping under the freeway,
hand him our wallets and bathe
his feet in holy water. We need
to find our lost sister, last seen
hitchhiking Highway 16
or panhandling on the streets of Anchorage,
couchsurfing with relatives in Victoria,
or kicking out her boyfriend
after a week of partying
in a trailer park in Salem, Oregon.

Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we need to register together,
lock arms at the front lines, brand
ourselves with mutant DNA strands,
atomic whirls and serial numbers
adding ourselves to the blacklist.
We need to speak in code, languages
the enemy can’t break, slingshot
garlic cloves and tortilla crumbs,
wear armor of lily pads and sandstone
carved into the stately faces of bears
and the faraway look of whitetail deer.
We need to run uphill with rickshaws,
play frisbee with trash lids, hold up
portraits of soldiers who never
made it home, organize a peace-in
on the walls of the Grand Canyon.
We need to stage earnest satirical plays,
hold debate contests with farm animals
at midnight, fall asleep on hammocks
hanging from busy traffic lights.

Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we need to prank call our senators,
take selfies with the authorities
at fundraisers we weren’t invited to,
kneel in prayer at burial grounds
crumbling under dynamite.
We need to rub salve on the belly
of our hearts, meditate on fault lines
as the earth quakes, dance in robes
with fringe that spits medicine, make
love on the eve of the disaster. 

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