I met Joan Kane about two years ago at a conference where she was reading as part of her latest fellowship, The Native Arts and Cultures poetry series, on Santa Ana pueblo lands. I had never heard her poetry before but truth be told, it was after her reading where I truly became intrigued by Kane. She sat out by a fireplace with a small group of whom had closed the bar down (the bar closed early mind you) and charmed us as a crowd with her stories and wit. Fast forward two years later and we are in Santa Fe, NM, where she is teaching poetry in the Low Rez MFA program at IAIA and I am trying to get a few words in edgewise with her before she has to run off to a Joy Harjo presentation. Joan (Inuit/Inupiaq) is the recipient of numerous awards—here’s the quick rundown from her website joankane.strikingly.com: “Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife and Hyperboreal. She has received a Whiting Writer’s Award, the Donald Hall Prize in Poetry, the USA Projects Creative Vision Award, an American Book Award, the Alaska Literary Award, and fellowships from the Rasmuson Foundation, Alaska State Council on the Arts, Alaska Arts and Cultures Foundation, the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation, and the School for Advanced Research.” She was just recently selected for inclusion to the prestigious Best American Poetry 2015.
RELATED: “Headline News,” a Poem by Joan Kane
What brought you to the IAIA MFA program and what do you envision for it?
Well, I think the thing that brought me here is that, in my experience as a writer, as a poet, as someone who is a Native person, I’ve never felt that there is a place for me anywhere. I’ve never felt there was a community or an academic context in which I was supposed to be, in all of the ways—not all, but I’d say many of the ways—in which I’ve had to move through the world as a writer, and a poet.
What was your education?
I went to Harvard college for undergrad and I went to Columbia for my MFA.
Not a lot of Native people in those places…
And frankly in most of places that I go! Unless it’s in Alaska, I’m on the only Eskimo anyone’s ever met! So there’s always this feeling of aloneness. I think I came to IAIA [to teach] because I was lucky enough, part of the culture of the community, especially the people that came here as undergrads, they see the value in what happens when you bring Native artists together. So what happened was in 2012, Orlando White invited me down to Dine’ College to teach a workshop and to read down there.
Was that the first time you’ve been in New Mexico?
Yeah! So I went down there and on the way back I came to Santa Fe and read for Jon [Davis]. Jon knew who I was and stuff, so I made that connection. To actually be invited somewhere where people are working in their home community, with people who speak predominately [Dine’], it’s not just like it’s just Anchorage, or Boston, or New York, or Seattle, it’s like, no, Tsaile is like…
Tsaile is a culturally specific place, it’s where Dine’ College is.
Yeah, yeah, and for me as a Native writer I rarely ever get to go to other Native communities. I usually go where I have to go, or where I’m required to go to promote my books and do book tours or speak.
“Unless it’s in Alaska, I’m on the only Eskimo anyone’s ever met! So there’s always this feeling of aloneness.”
Those are usually places with money.
And white people! And so I made good friendships and also got to know these other people. So I came to IAIA when Jon asked me if I’d be interested in being involved I said Yeah, absolutely! If there was any place where I might theoretically belong or be of value, learn, and help me deal as a writer and a person, as someone who wants to be part of a community and change a bunch of stuff, this is where I need to be.
Are you teaching up there in Alaska?
No, occasionally I’ll have workshops. I’m getting academic opportunities.
Where are you based?
I’m in Anchorage. I live in Anchorage.
You’re not teaching at the university?
They will let me teach a one-credit workshop every three years, if they have me teach more than that they have to pay me more. They are never able to fill the class anyway which is kind of more of a commentary on…
The state of poetry?
Yeah, but I also think, let’s be real—Anchorage is a pretty racist place. Alaska is statistically the most horrible place to be a woman, a Native woman. It’s a really hostile place for Native women: rapes, murders, suicides, assaults, the whole culture of fucking sad machismo in Anchorage is pretty busted and I actually got slammed for this. I had an interview in the New York Times and they asked me how do you feel about getting out of Alaska, how do you feel about being Alaskan? I said the odds aren’t good for Native women here. I’m lucky to have survived. I mean that! I’m fucking lucky to be alive! I am lucky to be alive. Other native women especially in Alaska were like, “we do so well, there’s a lot of successes.”
“The odds aren’t good for Native women in Alaska. I’m lucky to have survived.”
There was some blowback from your own community?
Yeah yeah. And I was like, No, look at the statistics. Their experience might have been fucking perfect. You don’t hear about people’s mistakes.
What at your influences?
The Mountain Goats
The mountain goats?
The Mountain Goats, the band.
Oh musically! I thought you meant like, literally, mountain goats!
No! The band! One of them lives in North Carolina; John Durniel was just shortlisted for the National Book Award. I write with them on [the stereo]. Layli Longsoldier’s work—the poet, and her as a person. Joy Harjo has been very kind with her time to me. Carolyn Forche, James Thomas Stevens, Sherwin Bitsui. But Sherwin and Layli especially in terms of welcoming me, saying its okay for me to come do my poetry thing.
I have a chapbook that I’m committed to for an organization called Voices From the American Land, and it’s about King Island, which is a place I went to last summer. I was hesitant to committing to a chapbook about it, particularly because the title of the chapbook series is Voices From the American Land, and no, my voice actually comes from me not from the land. But I think it’s an opportunity for a native, for me, to defy some stereotypes about native writers and landscape and nature writing.
That will be out in June. I have another manuscript for my publisher right now and I’m working on a novel.