How To Dress a Fish

Wesleyan Univ. Feb. 2019. 152p. ISBN 9780819578488. $30; pap. ISBN 9780819578495. $14.95. POETRY
Winner of the Locked Horn Press Poetry Prize, Chabitnoy uses her first collection to explore the question of identity in a world consumed by uncertainties. She engages history in a journey aimed at rejuvenating the idea of cultural consciousness for Native Americans in general and Alaska's Aleuts in particular. Bending prose and poetry, she transcends her ancestral past to highlight contemporary issues, approaching themes such as displacement, isolation, death, family, and memory through a collage of documentary materials and highly imaginative metaphors: "When the tide went out, they had nowhere to go/ but that was many years ago/ and if they have not died they live/ happily still." The language is intricate and visually attentive, brilliantly juxtaposing the poetic with the commonplace, and the usage of historical details authenticates the poet's quest to give shape to a marginalized identity. The motif of water as both life-giver and life-taker runs throughout, with all its mythical and magical connotations: "That's not the one from water/ survived/ how could she survive/ in a box? in pieces?"
VERDICT Chabitnoy enacts a voyage that weaves history, social issues, and local culture into remarkable poems. Recommended for all poetry readers.
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