Poetry in the Arctic Circle

I spent the last weeks above the Arctic Circle in Greenland. The attraction was the Polar Marathon followed next day by a Half-Marathon with only 135 runners. It was challenging: running on the Ice Cap and through the Arctic Desert at -10 plus the wind chill, totally alone for most of the race with the only sounds being the wind and the crisp-crack of shoe. But I did it and I got the t-shirt.

After the two races I flew 400km north to Ilulissat, a fjord where the North Atlantic glaciers break away from the ice cap. I saw them up close from a boat, twenty-storey mountains of ice travelling slowly each day. I never felt so small.

The trip was like that – hiking in deep snow, dog-sledding, chatting to the Inuit, eating seal, fish and ox musk, learning about their culture, and every day the bitter cold like a messenger fore-warning that the sun won’t be seen for months. It’s a hard place where the locals say they don’t live in Greenland, they survive there.

I was struck by the language, as you would expect of a poet. It only has the present tense and picture words attach like a jig-saw to make more words as if nothing should be wasted, a statement in itself about the Inuit. This poem by Uvavnuk, a shaman and oral poet, encompasses their close relationship to nature:

The great sea
frees me, moves me,
as a strong river carries a weed.
Earth and her strong winds
move me, take me away,
and my soul is swept up in joy.

First published in Swindon Link

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