Review: 'Ancestors and Species: New and Selected Ethnographic Poetry' by Tom Lowenstein. (Shearsman Books, £9.95)
"The poems in this volume", writes Tom Lowenstein in his introduction, "have all emerged from ethnographic work in Northwest Alaska and come from three separate periods of writing spread over thirty years". In 1993 Bloomsbury published Lowenstein's "Ancient Land: Sacred Whale". Subtitled "The Inuit Hunt and Its Rituals" this account of Eskimo life on the Peninsula of Tikiraq in Alaska focussing on the traditional whale hunt was narrated largely in verse, interspersed with prose sections giving background material. At the time, it attracted some very favourable reviews, in the London Review of Books and elsewhere. But one is struck by the fact that it was reviewed by critics who by and large, did not otherwise write about poetry, and in the poetry magazines the book went largely unacknowledged. It is not as if Lowenstein didn't have a track record. His first book publication had been a collection of translations of Eskimo poetry, made from the versions of the Danish originally collected by Rassmussen; this appeared from Allison and Busby in 1973 at about the same time as his fieldwork in Alaska was getting under way. The first collection of his own poetry to appear, "The Death of Mrs Owl", came out from Anvil in 1977, and in 1978 The Many Press (and here, as the press's founder perhaps I should declare an interest) brought out "Filibustering in Samsara". It is as if, when the Bloomsbury book appeared, people where not quite sure where to place these texts.
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