A handwritten court record offers a forgotten name, a baby cries in the archive: In Wintering, her second collection of poems, Megan Snyder-Camp composes a disruptive, archive-sourced poetry of witness that challenges the given story of the “Indian vocabularies,” indigenous language records Lewis and Clark gathered during their 1804-6 journey. Exploring whiteness, memory and language, Wintering is a book about the mark our hunger makes.
In Wintering, Megan Snyder-Camp makes a daring entrance into history, first in the winter camp of Lewis and Clark, whose “days slide through my hands like rope.” In stunningly lyrical prose that adapts the form and traditional journey of the haibun, the poet seamlessly juxtaposes the explorers’ mapping and journals with her own contemporary life. Native Americans come to the fore in a second haibun, which leads to a third in which the author goes East in search of the lost “Indian vocabularies” the explorers collected. The book ends with an essay about the surprising results of that search; but what lingers most for the reader is the remarkable poetic experience of being in the past and present at once, “never just one path taken,” but “five paths . . .taken at once, fingering out their hopeless green.”
Martha Collins, author of Admit One
“listen; listen; abysmal water.” – with found text from the journals of Meriwether Lewis and George Clark, observations from her own travels overlain upon their journeys at the mouth of the Columbia River, and acute awareness of what was overwritten and wrongly seen in their historic voyage, Megan Snyder Camp braids a remarkable investigation in Wintering. She is able to be both generous and hard-eyed, both yearning and unflinching. From Oregon to Monticello, from PlayLand crawled by kids to microfilm-speeding librarians, Snyder-Camp backwards-traces what has been left to us as simplified legend and restores its necessary complexity with lyric power. “I live in Seattle now…Back east is where I am from,” she writes with a sorrowful sense of the burden that very knowledge gives her to carry. A corrective as much as an investigation, a hunt for language difficult to find and languages lost, Snyder Camp’s book joins the poetic investigations of Frank X Walker’s Buffalo Dance: The Journal of York, Campbell McGrath’s Shannon, and others. I cannot wait to share this intelligent, emotionally wise, innovative collection.
Liz Bradfield, author of Once Removed
In Wintering, Snyder-Camp weaves genres and concepts in an intriguing and open-ended examination of national and personal American mythology. In her lyrical analysis of the Lewis and Clark expedition, she maintains a perceptive lens—“without its story, the images are gorgeous” notes the writer and proceeds to make space for both the lush beauties and the stark atrocities of history.
Laura Da’, author of Tributaries
Wintering is a ceremonial feast of a book, its offerings rich in language that is both lyrical and scholarly. It is, like the Lewis and Clark expedition it probes, a “Voyage of Discovery.” Snyder-Camp restores the washed-out textbook myth of the explorers’ arrival at the Pacific to its vibrancy, a human story as sorrowful, terrifying, foolish, exhausting, culpable and occasionally funny as all our lives are if truly told. Snyder-Camp tells truly here, of the “voyage of distances” that we, all of us, by turns create and attempt to cross.
Melinda Mueller, author of What the Ice Gets
To create the distance a frontier demands.
Green hunger splitting the husk of our lives.
The husk turned from.
To seek out that turning, that distance.
To set it loose just to see what it does. To watch it learn to walk.
To build a home beside it.
With what wood we found.
Through the fog we tail a milk truck painted with puns—The Udder Guys, Dairy Aire—then half a house on a flatbed. You’re trying to explain the difference between tension and piecework, a small aggravation inside a larger sadness. Our son sleeps in the backseat and our daughter, not yet born, turns inside me. Briefly, cut from the fog,
a field strewn with mower parts, spools, then a lull of grass, six crooked graves. The half house turns left and we double our speed.
The river has rose nearly 8 Inches to day
and has every appearance of a tide,
from what Cause I can’t Say—
When Clark pointed at individual Indians within a group hoping to learn their names, he kept getting the same answer. A new edition of the journals tells us in a footnote those Indians were saying, He is pointing at him. The road to the winter camp the explorers chose for its ready elk is now marked with a yellow sign warning ELK. Sometimes
they would name a bird twice, three times, tongues lapping the fog. This winter of naming spread and battened in like a quilt: what they remembered and what they kept trying to see. They built the fort out of anger at the constant damp, the wet rolling logs that had frightened them now bound into thick-walled rooms, or cut for fire. But whether to trust
the first draft of the journals, or the third . . . Reading interviews with writers, I notice their answers are longer and smarter than a decade ago. Even though on the page writers still settle in at a kitchen table with tape recorder and cigarettes, through the smooth arch of their syntax it’s clear they’ve actually written out their replies, revised them, rather than hear their own stutter transcribed.
What we built to hold us, the year’s memory,
menus and daytrips, after a while
came loose. Those nights
we balanced on each other’s mistakes,
cradling our wine:
twigs those branches now.
Who knew what lived there?
She she she called one bird.
What lived there knew its place.
Another bird splits its nest wide,
hinges the gap with spider silk, learning
to give, to give, to give until breaking. Only then—
either one gives until breaking or one does not.
We turned our grief out to graze
gave over the year’s tender greening
across those slabbed hills, sharp haunches
pressing down the field, what pain, what good
taken down to its root, the root taken, each green spear
until the year itself was consumed, driven back to the mud
it had once been. When they turned with patient hunger toward us,
these warm beasts, rib-hull, pine-hull—it had been their course
we followed, their lead across the distance.
Others chose philosophy, we heard,
or prayer. But we were the only ones
who lasted through the winter, we who offered up
our homes and our crops and everything we had once dared to build.
We knew it was the store and depth and cover
from rain we had given our grief—how we’d grown
to love the damp heat above even what we remembered
of each other—that in turn fed us
what little we could take.