Magnetic North: Sea Voyage to Svalbard

Jenna Butler. Univ. of Alberta (Wayne State Univ., dist.), $19.99 trade paper (120p) ISBN 978-1-77212-382-1
The remote island of Spitsbergen, on Norway’s northern Svalbard archipelago, provides the setting for Butler’s evocative ruminations on the harsh beauty at the edge of the world. Butler (A Profession of Hope), a professor of creative writing at Red Deer College, weaves poetry with nature writing as the book shifts topically among the hardscrabble miners and whalers who work the frozen island, the scars they leave on the earth, and the animals who fight to survive. Butler’s literary skills make even mundane sights, such as the body of a dead seabird, feel majestic: “Pleated bone flutes open against rock. Arctic tern caught sunning, breast jimmied open by the rummagings of the fox.” She finds a solemn awe in the pervasive reminders of death on the island; the remains of whales and birds create “a landscape of bone” in “a land of traces” where “what dies, lingers.” Butler also touches on the people who have populated Svalbard over time. Some perished in the harsh climate, while others died symbolically by leaving their previous lives behind. Butler’s book is not a standard travel narrative; rather, she wields poetic prose to describe a place that most humans will never visit. The result is highly recommended for lovers of poetry and nature writing. (Sept.)
Reviewed on: 10/15/2018
Release date: 09/01/2018
Genre: Nonfiction
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