Jane Routh

Five Poems

On Reading the Arctic Map



What they charted was the nineteenth century’s
flatteries, friendships and obligations
– a sea for Beaufort, an island for Banks –

as if rock and ice and vastness
had no reality without their names;
as if the landscape did not already know itself.

And if they’d thought to ask, local peoples
could have told them headlands, straits and seas
already had their names: discords of -q and -k

their English craws would choke on,
but which might have translated as
the passage where multi-year ice crushes in

so Franklin would not have tried to sail
west of “King William Land”, but east instead
(where Ross had told him – guessing – land joined up)

on open waters local language might have called
the passage of only single-winter ice and through
to fame for having made it instead of not.







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