Abigail Chabitnoy’s debut poetry collection, How to Dress a Fish, was shortlisted for the 2020 International Griffin Poetry Prize. The prestigious award is given by The Griffin Trust for Excellence in Poetry. In addition to the Griffin Poetry Prize, the Griffin Trust initiates and supports projects and ventures consistent with the mandate of the prize to further promote appreciation of Canadian and international poetry.
In How to Dress a Fish, poet Abigail Chabitnoy, of Aleut descent, addresses the lives disrupted by US Indian boarding school policy. She pays particular attention to the life story of her great grandfather, Michael, who was taken from the Baptist Orphanage, Wood Island, Alaska, and sent to Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Pennsylvania. Incorporating extracts from Michael’s boarding school records and early Russian ethnologies—while engaging Alutiiq language, storytelling motifs, and traditional practices—the poems form an act of witness and reclamation.
Judges had high praise for Chabitnoy’s debut collection, saying “How to Dress a Fish is an act of remythologizing and personal re-collection, a text of redress to the violence of US colonialism.” Further praise says her poems “move with undercurrent, sections, elision, and invention into voicings of self, land, story, and mythic place” and “speak of division’s expression and history’s fracturing violence.” Read a sample poem from the collection below:
It was winter.
It was winter. I was sweating. You and I were in a boat, going back to
Unalaska and my body went cold to spite my discomfort. You can be
wind. You can be feathers. You can be fur or fin or teeth. I am not even
earth. Not even bone. But permafrost in a warming state. Cold, not cold
enough. Porous. Full of holes. Not filled but
ABIGAIL CHABITNOY is a member of the Tangirnaq Native Village in Kodiak, Alaska. She earned her MFA in poetry at Colorado State University and was a 2016 Peripheral Poets fellow. Her poems have appeared in Hayden’s Ferry Review, Tin House, Gulf Coast, Pleiades, Tinderbox Poetry Journal, Nat. Brut, Red Ink, and Mud City.