Inuit Anger Walk

     from A History of Walking

Lydia Kennaway

I am a furnace in the snow.
I have been given my anger-stick
and told to go plant it
where and when my flames
have turned to embers

and so I walk
past my people who know
            to look away. I walk
past the Place of Drying Fish,
past the Place of Catching Fish,
past the Place of the Seals who do not know
            to look away. I walk
beyond the place called The End of Places
until the heat spills from my eyes.
Here I drive the stick into
the yielding snow and
turn to face the cold
walk home.



Lydia Kennaway

A native New Yorker who has made her home in Yorkshire, Lydia Kennaway has enjoyed the delights and confusions of this culture clash for over 40 years. Linguistically, she's learned new words like 'ginnel' and 'snicket' as well as unexpected uses of old words - that being starved, for instance, is all about being cold and nothing to do with hunger.

The novelty of public footpaths, bridleways and Permissive Ways (not to mention ginnels and snickets) has yet to wear off, and Lydia's passion for travelling on foot led to A History of Walking. This sequence of poems explores themes of possession, loss and fear of loss through different types of walking, from promenade to protest march.

Lydia retired from a career in music publishing two years ago and is now a postgraduate student at Newcastle University on their MA in Writing Poetry programme. She has published poems in The 2014 Hippocrates Prize Anthology, Pennine Platform and The Rialto, and has been longlisted for the National Poetry Competition three times. Lydia is the winner of the 2017 Flambard Poetry Prize.

She quotes Lucy R. Lippard, writing in Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory:

An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.

Read more about this poem.



Words of measurement delight me: punnets, bushels, leagues, cubits and drams. But words that measure the intangible are in a class of their own, words like the millihelen - the unit of beauty that could launch a ship (now made famous by Sinéad Morrissey's wonderful poem), and the dol - the unit of measurement of pain.

We need measures when other words fail us. It's one thing to say you feel feverish, and quite another to say you have a temperature of 39.4°. That information makes it easier for friends to sympathise, but it also makes you feel better to know you have a right to feel so bad. It's outward proof of your inward state.

And so it is with anger. We can say we're hopping mad, we're spitting nails, we're screaming blue murder and seeing red but what we really want is a universally-accepted measure of rage.

An Inuit tradition offers just such a measure, and it's also a form of therapy. Lucy R. Lippard writes in Overlay: Contemporary Art and the Art of Prehistory:

An Eskimo custom offers an angry person release by walking the emotion out of his or her system in a straight line across the landscape; the point at which the anger is conquered is marked with a stick, bearing witness to the strength or length of the rage.

When I read this, I immediately felt the heat of fury in a frozen landscape. I also sensed a community where it was recognised that this was a personal matter best dealt with in silent support. In Inuit Anger Walk, I made the walk a long one by imagining the places along the way. So powerful was the anger in this poem that it took the speaker beyond the place called The End of Places.

This hike gives the angry person more than solitude. It saves them from doing or saying something they might later regret. It gives them time to deal with that strange form of possession that is rage. It gives a physical outlet for frustrated energy. And above all, in the driving of that stick into the snow, it provides a marker: Look, that's how angry I was!

So here's a poem offered at the end of a snowy month. Though I don't see why an anger-stick wouldn't work just as well in mud or sand or the grass of a city park.

Lydia Kennaway

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Inuit Anger Walk © 2018 by Lydia Kennaway: used with permission.
Copyright of this poem remains with the poet: please do not download or republish without permission.