cover image Songs Are Thoughts: Poems of the Inuit

Songs Are Thoughts: Poems of the Inuit

Maryclare Foa. Orchard Books (NY), $15.95 (1pp) ISBN 978-0-531-06893-9

In his informative preface to this extraordinary book of Inuit songs, folklorist Philip (The Arabian Nights) stresses the importance of sung poetry in the Inuit culture, explaining that ``the Inuit word anerca signifies both `breath' and `poetry.'"" He quotes the shaman poet Orpingalik: ``Songs are thoughts, sung out with the breath when people are moved by great forces and ordinary speech no longer suffices.'' Compelling and spare, the poems offer not only an introduction to the Inuit way of life, but testimony to a people who can find joy in the magic of laughter, language and everyday life, in spite of harsh conditions. In ``Bear Hunting'' poet Aua tells of playing ``catch-me-who-can'' with a snarling polar bear on an ice floe. In ``The Mother's Song'' an anonymous poet describes her son peacefully ``sleeping on the ledge'' as the snowstorm wails outside, then asks, ``Is it strange if I start to cry with joy?'' First-time illustrator Foa offers boldly colored, almost primitive, oil paintings-Modigliani faces that look scratched into the surface of the canvas, like the white lines in soapstone carving. In their elemental simplicity, these Inuit songs and Foa's commanding paintings possess a haunting power. Ages 6-up. (Mar.)