Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Fighting suicide with poetry in Alaska

Those dark winters in Alaska can get you down apparently.

Now teachers in the state have got together with healthcare providers to tackled suicide through poetry, prose and digital media, the Arctic Sounder reports.

One way the students have decided to share their message is with a media contest, open to students across Alaska through April 1.

The Alaska Association of Student Governments partnered with the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium, which sponsored a media contest to prevent suicide — creative teens are invited to enter skits, songs, poems, digital stories and posters, among other things, to encourage others to mindfully make healthy choices.

Teams or individuals can enter to win $2,000 in prizes and cash, and winners will be announced at the AASG Spring Conference in Cordova, April 14-16.

A number of well know poets took their own lives. The most famous is probably Sylvia Plath, but there are others like Randall Jarrell whose gloomy poem 90 North is evocative of Alaskan climes, and beyond to the north pole itself.

90 North by Randall Jarrell

At home, in my flannel gown, like a bear to its floe,
I clambered to bed; up the globe's impossible sides
I sailed all night—till at last, with my black beard,
My furs and my dogs, I stood at the northern pole.

There in the childish night my companions lay frozen,
The stiff fur knocked at my starveling throat,
And I gave my great sigh: the flakes came huddling,
Were they really my end? In the darkness I turned to my rest.

—Here, the flag snaps in the glare and silence
Of the unbroken ice. I stand here,
The dogs bark, my beard is black, and I stare
At the North Pole . . .
And now what? Why, go back.

Turn as I please, my step is to the south.
The world—my world spins on this final point
Of cold and wretchedness: all lines, all winds
End in this whirlpool I at last discover.

And it is meaningless. In the child's bed
After the night's voyage, in that warm world
Where people work and suffer for the end
That crowns the pain—in that Cloud-Cuckoo-Land

I reached my North and it had meaning.
Here at the actual pole of my existence,
Where all that I have done is meaningless,
Where I die or live by accident alone—

Where, living or dying, I am still alone;
Here where North, the night, the berg of death
Crowd me out of the ignorant darkness,
I see at last that all the knowledge

I wrung from the darkness—that the darkness flung me—
Is worthless as ignorance: nothing comes from nothing,
The darkness from the darkness. Pain comes from the darkness
And we call it wisdom. It is pain.


  1. I've never been to Alaska, though I know people who have and have said it's beautiful. But daily life there must be difficult, especially in the remote areas. So many cold, dark months. Our environs can have a profound effect on us. Touching poem by Jarrell. Great idea for educators to band with health care providers, to tackle the suicide problem.

  2. That's an interesting idea and way to try and prevent suicide. I hope they can reach those who need to be reached. I've not heard this poem before. It's a moving one.