Hayes' and Wall's poems dedicated in Totem Bight

Visitors to Totem Bight State Historical Park in Ketchikan now have an opportunity to experience the poetry of two Juneau writers, Ernestine Hayes and Emily Wall, through recently installed park signage bearing the women’s poems, part of the Alaska Center for the Book’s Poems in Place project.


Original poems by both women were unveiled during a dedication ceremony Sunday in Ketchikan, following a creative writing workshop on Saturday that focused on landscape-inspired poetry and prose. Sunday’s dedications took place at the park’s Clan House, and included a welcome from the Haida Descendant Dancers and readings by the poets.

Wall’s poem, “This Forest, This Beach, You,” was written specifically for the site, and Hayes’ poem, “The Spoken Forest,” is an excerpt from a longer work. Both women are professors of English at the University of Alaska Southeast.

The Poems in Place project, organized by Homer writer Wendy Erd, is a statewide collaboration between the Alaska Center for the Book and Alaska State Parks that highlights the connection between poetry and place. This year’s installations also include two poems in the Chena River State Recreational Area near Fairbanks: Frank Soos’ “The Blue Fish,” and the late John Haines’ “Poem of the Forgotten.”

Two new parks will be selected in 2014 and 2015.

The project is supported by Alaska State Council on the Arts, the Alaska Humanities Forum, Rasmuson Foundation, the Usibelli Foundation, the Alaska Poetry League, Alaska Center for the Book, and numerous individuals.

For more on this project, visit juneauempire.com/art/2013-06-06/poems-wall-and-hayes-be-installed-totem-bight-park#.Ui-25GArGhc. For more information, visit www.alaskacenterforthebook.org/id112.html.

Here is the text of both poems.

“This Forest, This Beach, You,” by Emily Wall

If you were a cedar

you would be waiting for rain to fall

or fall harder, relaxing your ten thousand needles.

If you were a handful of moss

you would be waiting for the light so you could

climb further up this rich, fallen log.

If you were a blue mussel

you would be waiting for the tide to rise

to open your lips, to sip.

What a world this is.

Close your eyes and inhale. Eat a little

of this air. Let it fill your belly. Let the taste of this place

always rest on your tongue.

“The Spoken Forest” by Ernestine Hayes

I was thinking about the forest one day

and it came to me—

our stories,

our songs,

our names,

our history,

our memories

are not lost.

All these riches are being kept for us

by our aunties, our uncles,

our grandparents, our relatives—

those namesakes who walk and dance

wearing robes that make them seem like bears and wolves.

Our loved ones.

Those beings who live in the spoken forest.

They are holding everything for us.


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