A Conversation with Joan Naviyuk Kane—WSR Contributing Poetry Editor

by Jan 16, 2024

Water~Stone Review is a collaborative project of students, faculty, and staff at Hamline University Creative Writing Programs. In addition to working with our faculty, and to fulfill a larger initiative of providing a place for new/emerging and underrepresented voices at Water~Stone Review, we now have rotating contributing editor positions. 

This is a wonderful opportunity for our graduate student assistant editors to collaborate with renown writers in order to expand our reach and  further innovation. Past Contributing Editors include Sun Yung Shin, Keith Lesmeister, Sean Hill, Carolyn Holbrook, Mona Power, Kao Kalia Yang, and Ed Bok Lee. 

In this post we introduce Vol. 27 Contributing Poetry Editor, Joan Naviyuk Kane.

Photo credit: John Utkiduaq Kane

Welcome! We’re thrilled to have you as a contributing editor for Volume 27 of Water~Stone Review. With such an expansive list of works, what is your writing process like for individual poems? And looking at the big picture, how do you architect the flow of a poetry collection or chapbook?

Often, in my process, individual poems begin with an insistent word, image, or moment that begins to inflect a line— a lyric call to the page that defies everyday, conversational speech. I try to get myself then to a stanza, and the turns of a poem. Titles, speakers, human and more-than-human subjects often come late, or later, in the process. I find myself doing a lot of spelunking around for diction: I’m especially interested in the histories of words, their original meanings, and consider myself somewhat anachronistic in turning to the Oxford English Dictionary and hardcopies of a Roget’s International Thesaurus (one that is organized according to categories of word choices, which helps lateralize and expand meanings and associations of the language that initially gets me to the page) and a rhyming dictionary, too. 

Structuring a collection, whether it’s a chapbook or longer work, often begins with a desire to order my poems in such a way that the pieces I’m most wedded to for various reasons appear at the beginning and end of a manuscript and its sections, if I’m working in sections. With Dark Traffic, I was fortunate to have some exceptional readers who had signed on to work with me for the year that we were to have our collaboration hosted at Harvard Radcliffe Institute. One in particular, Patricia Liu, who is a poet of such attention and generosity, helped me jettison a lot of the things I’d originally had in the book’s early drafts. 

All that said, I have a fairly arcane process for structuring collections. For various reasons, I’ve tended to subsume or obscure a lot of autobiographical details, yet work with certain narrative landmarks in my manuscripts. Sometimes I find that I want readers to map their own way through the individual poems. 

As a Visiting Associate Professor at Reed College, what are some essential techniques you teach your poetry students?

Essential poetry techniques I try to impart often have to do with getting students to heighten and hone their diction, phrasing (focusing on the unit of the line), to free their poems from narrative and accessibility. I tend to ask students to consider the proximity of their speakers to the poem itself, and to encourage them to let go of intention as a way to revise and incorporate revision suggestions. I don’t insist on students obtaining the aforementioned hardcopy resources—an international thesaurus, a rhyming dictionary—or use one particular formal or prosodic craft book. But I repeat and remind them that language—not just statement—is everything.

When reading new work, what catches your attention and sparks your interest?

I’m replenished by poems that remind me of the things poems can do that prose cannot do so easily: repetitions, sonic and lyrical gestures. Poems that live outside of narrative, meaning, or the myopia of a directed audience interest me the most. Ambiguity, imagination, and the way poems can complexify emotion through thought take hold of me more than poems that give everything plainly to the reader. 

What projects are you working on currently?

Well, I feel I’m just coming up for air after a series of major geographical moves in recent years alone with my children—first from Alaska to Massachusetts and then in late summer to Oregon. I’ve been collaborating on an expansive multi-genre anthology with two phenomenal co-editors that’s included a not-inconsiderable amount of travel to the arctic and subarctic (a bit tricky to do as a single parent), and working painfully on an essay collection that brings together revisions of older essays and trying to find some workable sentences, paragraphs, and coherence. I’m coming out, I think, of something of a drought of imagination and energy. My time and attention have been constrained by so many factors in recent years, not the least of which has been getting my kids through some tough stretches of time with COVID and our moves. We left a very stable life in Alaska. I’m a person who does well with routine, a lot of walking and physical activity, and a lot of time to read and research. The new poems are coming together in the background as I try to set aside longer amounts of time on my prose, including a turning back to long-abandoned fiction-writing. 


Joan Naviyuk Kane is the author of several collections of poetry and prose: The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife, Hyperboreal, The Straits, Milk Black Carbon, Sublingual, A Few Lines in the Manifest, Another Bright Departure, Dark Traffic, and Ex Machina. Forthcoming in 2024 is her edited anthology, Circumpolar Connections: Creative Indigenous Geographies of the Arctic, as well as an essay collection, Passing Through Danger. The Hopkins Review, The Yale Review, and The Academy of American Poets have recently featured her poetry and prose. A Guggenheim Fellow, Radcliffe Fellow, Native Arts and Cultures Foundation’s National Artist Fellow, Mellon Practitioner Fellow, and Whiting Award recipient, Kane was recently selected as a 2023-2026 Fulbright Specialist as well as the recipient of the 2023 Paul Engle Prize from the Iowa City UNESCO City of Literature. Kane received her A.B. in English and American Language and Literature from Harvard University and her M.F.A. in Writing from Columbia University. Prior to her current post as Visiting Associate Professor at Reed College, Kane held faculty appointments in the departments of English at Harvard, Tufts, and UMass Boston, in the graduate creative writing program at the Institute of American Indian Arts, and was the Mary Routt Endowed Chair of Creative Writing and Journalism at Scripps College in 2021. Kane is Inupiaq with family from Ugiuvak (King Island) and Qawiaraq (Mary’s Igloo).

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