Ishmael Angaluuk Hope (his Tlingit name is Khaagwáask’) is a Tlingit and Inupiaq poet, Indigenous scholar, video game writer, film actor, and novelist. His current and upcoming projects include: Walking Dead: Last Mile (Skybound Entertainment), a video game for Facebook; Likoodzí Shkalneek Áyá: The Stories of Robert Zuboff, edited with Matthew Spellberg and a team of translators and alumni, forthcoming from Dumbarton Oaks; Yéi Áyá Yax Shutaan: This is How It Ends, a speculative fiction epic in Tlingit and English, for which he received a Rasmuson Foundation Fellowship to write in the summer of 2022; and La Dilettante, a novel. He received his BLA from the University of Alaska Southeast and an MFA from the Institute of American Indian Arts. He lives in Dzantik’ihéeni (Juneau, Alaska).
Here is his most popular piece of poetry:
“Canoe Launch into the Gas-Lit Sea”
Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we need to come together, train
a lost tribe, scattered as one, breaks out
guided through gun barrels
through the spider’s crosshairs. We need
knit wool sweaters for our brother
sleeping under the highway,
give him our wallets and bathe
his feet in holy water. We need
to find our lost sister, last seen
hitchhiking on highway 16
or begging on the streets of Anchorage,
go couch surfing with parents in Victoria,
or fire her boyfriend
after a week of partying
at a trailer park in Salem, Oregon.
Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we have to register together,
lock the arms on the front lines, mark
ourselves with mutant DNA strands,
atomic swirls and serial numbers
add us to the blacklist.
We need to speak in code, languages
the enemy cannot break, slingshot
garlic cloves and tortilla crumbs,
wear lily pad and sandstone armor
carved into the majestic faces of bears
and the distant gaze of the white-tailed deer.
We have to run uphill with rickshaws,
play frisbee with trash can lids, hold
portraits of soldiers who have never
went home, arrange a peace
on the walls of the Grand Canyon.
We need to stage serious satirical plays,
organize debate competitions with farm animals
at midnight, fall asleep on hammocks
hanging from busy traffic lights.
Now, as much as ever, and as always,
we have to prank our senators,
take selfies with the authorities
at fundraisers to which we were not invited,
kneel in prayer at the burial places
is crumbling under dynamite.
We need to rub a balm on the belly
of our hearts, meditate on the fault lines
as the earth shakes, dance in dresses
with bangs that spit drugs, do
love on the eve of disaster.
In the following interview, we invited Ishmael to share his journey with us:
Can you give us your native name and its English translation?
My Inupiaq name is Angaluuk. My primary Tlingit name is Khaagwáask’. I have no translation of these names. I have other Tlingit names, however, for which I have a translation. One is Shis.hán, given to me by the Teeyhittaan clan, which means “Proud March of the Crow”. Another is X’aaká Xhei Uwaxhei, from my clan house, the Kiks.ádi, X’aaká Hít, which means “Sitting at the point”, which is a point of land where the clan house resides. Finally, the Khak’weidí gave me a name, L’ee S’aatí, master of the blankets, for fun (but also in honor), because of my intense interest in buying blankets to distribute. during the Khu.éex’, the potlatch.
What Indigenous communities are you affiliated with?
The Tlingit and the Inupiaq are my main heritages. I am also proud of my Tahltan heritage from a great-great-grandfather, and far back, Tsimshian.
How old were you when you became interested in poetry?
Both of my parents were poets, Andy Hope III, Xhaastánch, and Elizabeth “Sister” Goodwin Hope, Taliiraq. I have been interested in poetry for as long as I can remember, mainly under the influence of my parents. My mother in particular was deeply proud to be a poet. She is perhaps the first published poet of Inuit descent. His book, A lagoon is in my garden, was warmly commented on. My father was also a well-known poet in the region, and he was a literary builder, initiating and leading many literary and scholarly conferences, running a small press, supporting fellow native poets. They also read all the time. I enjoy the literary environment I grew up in, with many shelves filled with an eclectic mix of novels, poetry, history, music criticism, art books, and coffee tables filled with newspapers and magazines such as the new yorker, while NPR would air witty news or talk shows. We watched TV and movies, but there was an intellectual atmosphere at home. Also, my parents were deeply involved in their native cultures. My mother was a storyteller and an Inupiaq dancer. My father participated in Tlingit potlatches and was very close to knowledgeable elders, whose stories he documented. Their example inspired me. I remember writing short poems and showing them to my classmates and my teacher, who all responded encouragingly.
Do you consider your art as indigenous popular culture?
I work in many genres, ranging from Indigenous genres to my cultures, such as traditional storytelling and oratory in the Tlingit language and English, to poetry, video games, film and theatre. There is no “up” or “down” for me. It’s all good, all vital, all worthwhile. For example, I just came back from a trip to a museum where a group of us, Tlingit, held a ceremony to welcome back sacred objects. I spoke in Tlingit, in the traditional oral-literary form. I am also writing a speculative fiction epic in Tlingit with an English translation, a scientific chapter for a book on Tlingit art, a novel in English, and I am part of a writing team for a Walking Dead video game called Walking Dead: Last Mile. It’s all part of a continuum, while my goal remains rich and rigorous craftsmanship, making good art.
How does your work coincide with traditional Aboriginal art forms?
As I share above, I tell traditional stories and share oratorical speeches in Tlingit, while I also share some Inupiaq stories. I participate in the Khu.éex’, the Tlingit potlatch. I spent a lot of time with the Elders. Scholars and poets Nora and Richard Dauenhauer, who have published numerous books of Tlingit oral literature, have called our Elders “deeply intellectual.” Willie Marks, Nora’s father, was a chieftain and a great storyteller and orator. He also played Hawaiian guitar. I see my work as part of the same kind of continuum.
Is there any advice you can give to young Indigenous poets?
Read as much good literature as you can. To read every day. Read great oral literature, like the stories of Catherine Attla, Robert Nasruk Cleveland, Anna Nelson Harry, Paul John, Hanc’ibyjim, Joe Neil MacNeil, Avdo Međedović. Read great writers, such as Neruda, Lorca, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Lucy Tapahonso, Joy Harjo, Chrétian de Troyes, Ivan Turgenev, Nora Dauenhauer, Richard Dauenhauer, Euripides, Sophocles, Aeschylus, Virgil, Wallace Stevens, George Sand , Robert Bringhurst, Dante Alighieri. Start a literary journal. Write reviews of local poets. Read and celebrate the work of your literary colleagues. Write down in a notebook what you want to achieve in your writing and your career. Write letters to your relatives and dear colleagues. Study the biographies of writers and artists you admire. Take walks and do some form of resistance training. Learn your mother tongue. Study forms of poetry, including your own native forms.
Where can we find more of your poetry?
The aforementioned anthologies and my second collection of poetry, Stacks of rocks along the whirlpool, is available through Amazon, or you can email me directly to order a copy, at [email protected]
Also currently on display in the mall museum is:
January 28, 2022–January 29, 2023
Preston Singletary: Raven and the Daylight Box features works by internationally acclaimed artist Preston Singletary (American Tlingit, b.1963) and tells the story of Raven, the creator of the world and giver of the stars, moon and sun.
Through an immersive, multi-sensory experience, Raven takes visitors on a journey of transformation from darkness to light. In addition to Singletary’s striking glass pieces, the exhibit features storytelling paired with original music, Pacific Northwest coastal soundscapes, and projected imagery.