Edible Alaska‘s beautiful summertime issue is out. It includes as amuse bouche my flash essay, a salsa-based theory life called “The Far Places.” See magazine spreads below, and enjoy online access here.
“Corinna Cook’s Leavetakings brings to mind the sharpness of line drawings so extraordinarily crafted that we reach for the page to feel the fineness of feather. From Alaskan landscapes to human relationships, Cook tests the edges where exterior becomes interior.”—Karen Babine, author of All the Wild Hungers
“…a truly original voice.”—Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears
Leavetakings collects ten essays set in Alaska. They ask, what can coming and going reveal about place? Might wandering serve not only to map new regions but also to map the most familiar ones, like home? As the book travels to and from people, memories, beaches, and forests, it also studies the ebb and flow of empathy and alienation that makes friendship, like place, a complex of closeness and distance.
“A stunning debut.”—Jericho Parms, author of Lost Wax
Excerpt from “Traverses,” the collection’s first essay:
“Breathtaking…. Every chiseled, staggeringly focused experience becomes a window into history or myth or science… This incantatory, elegant book broke my heart in the best possible way.”—Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer
It is this simple. I am crossing the continent to look at its shape.
Of the continent: it’s unbelievable that road infrastructure overlays so much of it. Unbelievable that a whole plate of the earth’s crust has a net of asphalt threads laid atop it. Unbelievable, the nonchalance this creates. Crossing the continent to see its shape is less an expedition and more a comfortable contemplation. I will ford no rivers. I will search for passage through the mountains not for survival, but simply to walk my dog, Pep, study the game trails, and enjoy wayfinding on unfamiliar ground.
I will watch the continent change as I go north in early spring. Then in late summer, I will watch it change in reverse. It is important to go both directions. It takes repetitions to see where you’ve been. And things look different when you’re leaving: even the air is different. Often, what I’m leaving is Alaska, though in my heart I am never absent from the place and my departures probably reflect more obscure schisms. At least the place is a marker, clear enough that I can count the days until I return. When the number is small, I announce it: Dog! I say. We’re going back! She knows exactly where.
[…] It’s mid-May. It’s spring in a place where the land’s memory of winter is strong. I’ll be driving out well before breakfast, well before anyone else awakens. Eventually the day will open behind me; the sky will go from rose to blue. Later, summer will come. People—southerners—will begin trickling through; I’m ahead of the RV roadtripping curve, but it’ll follow soon enough. Visitors to will come, then they’ll go, and then the days will zip up tight into fall. That’s when the swampy land all around will blush once, hard, a quick bright red before the snow. I don’t even know if you like winter. I do. It’s very quiet. That’s what will come next.
“This lovely book teaches us how to examine and cherish the places where we find ourselves, no matter what rivers carried us here.”—Joni Tevis, author of The World Is On Fire
Advance Praise for Leavetakings
What does it mean to love a place? In Leavetakings, Corinna Cook explores this question via her own unique alloy “of humor and holiness.” Salmon otoliths whisper secrets; teenagers at calculus camp joke “Kiss My Asymptote”; a winged outhouse rises into the air. This lovely book teaches us how to examine and cherish the places where we find ourselves, no matter what rivers carried us here.
—Joni Tevis, author of The World Is On Fire
In this, her first essay collection, Corinna Cook draws for her reader an x-y axis and invites us to journey alongside her—on and off grid—as she plots stasis and change, leaving and returning, meditates on salmon bones and sourdough, friendship and solitude, and the ever-present landscape of Alaska. More than a collection, Leavetakings is a book of curated findings, evidence of a vast and changing northern terrain and the intimacy and wonder it engenders. With clarity, whimsy, and wisdom, Cook speaks to the body, charts under-explored regions of the heart, and presents a unique topography of human experience. A stunning debut.
—Jericho Parms, author of Lost Wax
Again and again I found myself astonished by the incandescence of Corinna Cook’s essays. Her accounts of people and place are thoughtful without pretension, witty without affectation, and poignant without sentimentality because she doesn’t write about Alaska so much as she is inhabited by it. I emerged from the intimate dreaminess of Leavetakings grateful to have encountered a truly original voice.
—Sherry Simpson, author of Dominion of Bears
Corinna Cook’s Leavetakings brings to mind the sharpness of line drawings so extraordinarily crafted that we reach for the page to feel the fineness of feather. From Alaskan landscapes to human relationships, Cook tests the edges where exterior becomes interior.
—Karen Babine, author of All the Wild Hungers
Corinna Cook’s breathtaking Leavetakings is an unclassifiable hybrid of environmental writing and personal memoir—set mostly in the author’s native Alaska—that reads, on the sentence level, as pure poetry. Cook doesn’t write of or at a subject, she writes through it. Every chiseled, staggeringly focused experience becomes a window into history or myth or science . . . This incantatory, elegant book broke my heart in the best possible way.”
—Michael White, author of Travels in Vermeer
Circumpolar Duet is a Yukon collaboration between ten word artists and ten visual artists. The process: we made our first round of arts independently, engaging the theme of “singular plurality.” Then the twenty of us came together to exchange words for vis and vis for words. In round two, we made our second contribution of word art or visual art in response to the specific piece we received in the exchange.
The result: twenty ekphrastic dialogues.
Thank you to supporters and organizers who arranged our ekphrastic pairings into a book compilation, and into a gallery exhibit hosted by Yukon Artists at Work.
Alaska Magazine’s special issue in creative writing includes my essay about heat, illness, the color red, and black spruce. The essay responds to a painting by Juneau artist Constance Baltuck.
To understand the black spruce, remember it grows from a fist-sized root ball as grey and compact and crucial as a brain. Each black spruce spindles itself straight up into the crack of the cold, stout branches making a skyward scrub from base to apex all winter night. And below that brain of roots lies permafrost, even in summer. This, then, is a tree that keeps ice in mind. Full essay here.
The magazine After the Art asks essayists to blend writing about art – with writing about a text – with writing about personal experience.
In answer to this tri-part prompt, I link a painting by Yukon artist Jane Isakson – to an essay by William Least Heat-Moon – to fragments from childhood in Alaska.
The mountain doesn’t know you’re an expert.
This is how my family reminds each other that life alongside mountains must by necessity be humble. By necessity alert. The tear-shaped island in Alaska on which I grew up has steep, rainforested mountainsides. It has dark, rocky shores. And it has a two-lane bridge to the mainland, where the rest of town is a capital city busy with state politics but rimmed by an icefield so that no road links our community to any other community. Because of this, we have a special responsibility to take care of each other.Continue reading “Points of Reference: I Am Here – After the Art“
I’ve completed a four-part series of “Yukon Dispatches” for Assay. Each dispatch tracks developments in my research during my year as a Fulbright fellow in Whitehorse, Yukon. Full sequence gathered and excerpted here.
This is an essay about wandering and about fixity. This is also an essay about the body, place of arising, place of rootlessness: the birthed body of a person, the grounds and bounds and turf of home, a region’s ancestry coevolved and coevolving with a people, ancestral symbiosis of biome and culture. This is an essay about my friend’s head, the surgeon’s hands. This essay is also sometimes about leaves, and sometimes about fish.
When Rachel traveled for a holiday by the tropical sea, she hadn’t the ambition to swim out past the breakers. She just sat down in the froth of the waves, plunk, and let the tumbling white of each crash drag her slight frame downbeach, push her back up, tug her sideways, and fill her pajama pants with sand. The French say les vagues for the waves—vagues like the English “vague” (as in “uncertainty” but also related to “vagabond,” to “vagrant”), and I wonder now if my friend’s minimalism in the surf was born of premonition, a sense she might appreciate—though never trust—les belles vagues. But at the time it was her glee that struck me: how satisfied she was with this salty edge, how all she needed was wave after wave sloshing into her lap and sucking sand from beneath her calves. The sea pulled and spun her, sure, but she wasn’t even in deep enough for it to disturb the posture of her slender back.
French waves and English vagueness also share their name with a nerve: the vagus nerve. It’s the one that wanders throughout the body. It livens the lungs. It animates the stomach. It is responsible for the ear canal, for sweating, for the rate at which the heart pumps grief and love over the body’s crags and planes, into its crevices. But for all its wandering the vagus nerve always keeps a firm hand on the throat where it is gatekeeper of each gasp, each sigh, and every gulp or swallow.
Full essay published in the Fall 2018 issue of Ocean State Review.
Someone cries out from the water. She thrusts her head and shoulders upward and lingers in the air for a still silent moment, then peels off sideways. Her buoyancy fails and she slips beneath the sea. An eagle rides the air overhead. On the far side of the water, behind the small circles spreading and already dissipating in the silence, mist clings to a muscle of ice. The glacier is jagged and blue beneath an overlay of snow.
I am a small girl standing on the side of the road looking out over the water and clutching my father’s index finger. He is concentrating. He wonders if he has understood. Someone is brokenhearted in the black and silver sea and there is an eagle overhead. Across the cove, the curving tongue of glacier says nothing. Full essay here.
Rooster Cogburn loves his ostrich. Its eggs are for sale.
You can get in to one by tapping a nail through the shell. I don’t recall that I used a nail—it could have been a corkscrew—but I blew out the raw yolk and egg white and rinsed the empty shell, placing it on a blue towel to drip by the sink. It was huge, the size of my left lung, I remember thinking, and was a creamier color than I expected, a butter egg. The counter slanted under the towel, but the egg didn’t roll or even waver. It must have been I who slanted then, lightheaded from the sustained air pressure it had taken to empty the shell, or dizzy from something more general and slower to accumulate, something in the tap water, perhaps.
We economized words then, there, weighing the air between one another with minimal talk.
Happy graduation, Corinna.
I got you an ostrich egg.
Breakfast? We can have it before stuff starts, early.
There is nothing here I could have said. This lung-sized egg, so soon broken? An exacting kind of grief would have bloomed in my throat. My friend would have seen it there, my swallow stymied, and had the kindness not to smile. Full essay in Tammy 6.
A tiresome, albeit necessary question: what are the rules of truth in nonfiction? In this Brevity post, I find Niklaus Luhmann, German sociologist and systems theorist, useful in de-centering the debate. Excerpt:
The true/false binary that’s useful in science is, I submit, of dubious service to literature, for it’s not art’s project to lie. And I can’t, at the moment, think of any art or genre that claims falsehood. Imagination, sure. Surreality, hyperreality, fantasy—yes, yes, yes. But none of these are properly understood as false. Metaphor, metonymy, and synecdoche are among our basic literary tools. Hyperbole, irony, personification, imagistic juxtaposition, even the objective correlative—none of these tools are for lying. We use them to communicate.
[…] Yet for categorization (read: library organization) purposes, does it even count as nonfiction? is a crucial question. Still, is there a way the term “nonfiction” could serve beyond these implied thumbs-up/thumbs-down, yay/nay, qualified/disqualified, on the shelf or off it, true/false stakes?
If yes, maybe we have to skyhook the practical, organizational impetus of genre. This is what I propose: maybe we can treat “nonfiction” selectively—sometimes as a genre, but also sometimes as a lens of reading. Full post here.