Tying the landscapes together

Posted: Tuesday, September 06, 2005

On the first day of the 2004 spring hunt in Barrow, Juneau writer Mo Hicks sat in her car with her friend, Annie, and watched a pack of hunters hitch up their sleds and head out onto the ice to catch the first seals of the season. As the team left town, a grandmother followed behind, waving and shouting an Inupiaq prayer.

"It seemed like a sacred moment," Hicks said. "And Annie looked at me and said, 'We'll never see anything like this again in our lives."

The next day, as Hicks composed an e-mail to her friend, she wrote the first stanzas of a poem.

That eventually turned into "Ice Truth." Hicks, a state employee and an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska Southeast, completed the poem this July and took it to the International Society of Poets Symposium in August in Washington, D.C. She read it in front of a crowd of 2,500, and the poem placed fourth among 255 presented.

"The reason I wanted to go, and the college wanted me to go, was that as a beginning Alaska poet I've been writing all my life," Hicks said. "This was my chance for one week to work with Pulitzer Prize winning poets, and poets that were nationally known."

Hicks wrote "Ice Truth" as a reminder that our world landscapes are connected, she said, even to the Inupiat villages of the Arctic. The first stanza copies the rhythms of the Inupiat drummers she grew familiar with throughout Barrow and the surrounding villages.

Hicks wrote for the state as the former publications specialist for the Department of Fish and Game. She's also had a few humor articles published and written for the performance group 20th Century Bluescast. But she's rarely shared her poetry outside of her family, friends and reading circles.

"You could say I'm a closet writer," Hicks said.

"My passion is writing and poetry has always been a form I've truly enjoyed," she said. "We all have tunes and were not always in tune with our own tunes. When you pair the natural rhythms of your voice and the natural rhythms of your message, it's a truly marvelous art form if it's done well. That's always the challenge when you write a poem."

Hicks grew up in the Washington State's Yakima Valley. She's lived in Juneau for about a dozen years.

In 2002, Hicks and her partner, former state assistant attorney general Kristen Bomengen, quit their jobs to move to Barrow and experience the "cooperative living" of the Inupiat people. Hicks worked for a group of health clinics. Bomengen took a job with the health department.

"The Inupiat people are really wonderful," Hicks said, "I really believe that when I'm watching these flooding stories, the Inupiat people would do better than our culture. They're used to sharing, they're used to hard times.

"Our feet don't even touch the Earth anymore," she said. "We don't think about the land as much as we should, as much as my grandparents even did. For those couple of years in Barrow, every day I would look to see what the ocean was doing and what the weather was doing. It means freezing or not freezing."

Hicks also experienced global warming first-hand. Her back deck began to sag into the melting tundra during their second year in Barrow.

"We're not only connected to the Inupiat by oil as a resource, but we're connected by the fact that Barrow is a major breeding ground on the European flyway," Hicks said. "Birds come from all over the world, from Russia, South America - and it's flooding now. It will melt by 2050. So my poem was about the intertwined landscapes, and landscape to me means all of the connectedness of the culture, the people and the land."

• Korry Keeker can be reached at korry.keeker@juneauempire.com.

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