The Bookshelf: A poetic memoir of northern travels

Goodbye, Ice: Arctic Poems
by Lawrence Millman
Coyote Arts

Lawrence Millman describes his latest book as poetry with a bit of a difference. He says it has a strong ecological bias.

“The book offers a window on the natural world of the Arctic and its tradition-bound Indigenous people. Climate change, inevitably, raises its ugly head in many of the poems, but the book itself is a lament not just for the loss of ice, but for the loss of the Arctic itself.”

This poem sets the theme:

Goodbye, ice
ancient membrane of the Arctic

goodbye, shimmering companion
who speaks in groans and cracks
roars, shrieks, and silences
you’re melting into oblivion
and with your passing
the myriad lives you’ve blessed
polar bears, seals, and walrus
amphipods grazing on algae
and lipid-rich zooplankton
will become homeless
forever more

Millman calls this book a poetical account of his wanderings in the Arctic between 1979 and 2019, a perambulation which has brought him to Dawson several times. Some of the poems are original with him; some are prose-like renderings from his notebooks; some are modified quotations from people he met in Greenland, Labrador, the Northwest Territories, the Yukon and Siberia.

He reflects on his process in this piece:

A platter of seal liver and walrus fat
With a side dish of berries
Nerillusuarisi! says my Inuit host
which means bon appetit
in his richly guttural tongue
I mispronounce the word
at least half a dozen times
so I ask him to write it down
but he shakes his head

Words are living things, he says
And we imprison them by putting them on paper
just like we imprison a bird by putting it in a cage

Poor words! I say to myself
even as I lock up a bunch of them
in this cage

Millman’s last reading in Dawson was at the former Alchemy Café, which has since morphed into the Bonton & Company Restaurant. You can find Millman reading three of his poems at “Lawrence Millman, Youtube, Goodbye, Ice”.

He is an adventure travel writer and mycologist (mushroom expert) who has made more than 40 trips into the Northlands all over the world. He holds a Ph.D. degree in Literature from Rutgers University, but he considers the fact that there’s a mountain named after him outside Angmagssalik, East Greenland, a vastly more important accomplishment.

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