by Robert Davis Hoffmann
afterword by Reginald Dyck
University of Arizona Press, 2022
Paper: 978-0-8165-4471-4 | eISBN: 978-0-8165-4690-9
Library of Congress Classification PS3558.O335
Dewey Decimal Classification 811.54

In Raven’s Echo, Tlingit artist and poet Robert Davis Hoffmann calls on readers to nurture material as well as spiritual life, asking beautiful and brutal questions about our individual positions within the universe and within history. The poems in this collection are brimming with an imaginative array of characters, including the playful yet sometimes disturbing trickster Raven, and offer insights into both traditional and contemporary Native life in southeast Alaska.

Raven’s Echo is divided into two books, “SoulCatcher” and “Reconstruction.” “SoulCatcher” artfully explores human alienation and spiritual longing through poems that describe the speaker’s enduring struggle to find a place in Tlingit tribal history and contemporary experience. It takes up topics like colonialism, government subordination, painful acculturation, assimilation, and an array of other challenges, while it also addresses human loneliness in a world of spirits who often elude rather than nurture. The poems in “Reconstruction” present ways of integrating traditional Tlingit culture into contemporary life by honoring the significance of the land, subsistence fishing, warrior identity, and the role of elders. The two books are woven together by the constant thread of finding a way to live humanely in a world that is historically fractured yet spiritually inviting.

Hoffmann’s poetry is acutely aware of economic, political, and social tensions, while still highlighting the joy of traditions and the beauty of Alaskan nature throughout the collection. The destructiveness of colonialism brings a profound darkness to some of the poems in Raven’s Echo, but the collection also explores the possibility of finding spiritual healing in the face of historical and contemporary traumas. As Hoffman’s poetry grapples with reconstructing a life within Tlingit tradition and history, the speaker urges that the importance of honoring and remembering traditions through art is ever present: “Listen, I’m trying to say something— / always our stories have lived through paintings, / always our stories stayed alive through retelling.” Raven’s Echo may tell stories about living in a world of guns and horsepower, global warming, cops, and drunks—but Raven always lurks in the background.

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