Surface Displacements is a finalist for the 2023 Minnesota Book Award in poetry. These poems travel through mining excavations and waterways vulnerable to environmental contamination and climate change in Minnesota, where the Northern Continental Divide crosses the Laurentian Divide and creates three watersheds that flow into the Mississippi River, the Great Lakes, and Hudson Bay. These are stories and images, historical and contemporary, about people who arrive or are displaced, whose language is replaced by another language, and still they find a fluid space full of possibility. This poet has given music to solastalgia, the term describing the grief or distress caused by environmental change.
“In Surface Displacements, the spirit of the ancient Finnish shamans breathes again. Sheila Packa’s best early poems recalled her youth on Minnesota’s Iron Range, growing up in households where Finnish was still spoken, where the immigrant towns were gritty working-class, in a landscape of mine pits, forests, and water. That environment remains her fundamental source, though now everything has changed, changed utterly, as Packa has learned, with increasing confidence, to incorporate history, science, and myth, even as her language has grown more musical, her poems more spiritual. Like the old shamans, she has become a shapeshifter, able — through the dreamy trance of poetry —to speak in the voice of a snail, rivers and lakes, an entire landscape and its people.”
—Bart Sutter, author of So Surprised to Find You Here
“There is a beckoning, a teaching, a singing and lamenting in Sheila Packa’s Surface Displacements. In rivers, headwaters, displacement and the otherworld we are given ways of navigating earth’s trauma in the sink and rise of all that is broken, all that survives. Whispers, dialogues, and the power of forgotten language are forged in the stellar poetic title poem that speaks of both beauty and loss. This is an important book of place, that calls out truth, journeys into landscape, history and the natural world. Ancestry runs through this book as challenge and praise, a way of naming that offers “the tongue with the old root.” Packa dives into the body of language and voices the body of the earth with skill and relish. “To speak is to mend” is an invitation to us all in this intimate and compassionate calling out of the elegant and fragile wonders of this world.”
—Diane Jarvenpa, author of The Way She Told Her Story and The Tender Wild Things
“Surface Displacements is a Lake Superior epic, an Iron Range chronicle, a Northland saga in which the human psyche merges with rock and water. This book has a heartbeat, and its rhythms are those of Great Lake seiches and flooded open pit mine waves. This poet’s practice is not only one of noticing but also of becoming, as self and landscape merge. Or perhaps it’s more accurate to say that humanity and geography have always been one, and Packa’s words remind us of what we know in our bones: that life is movement, displacement, and constant “shift(s) from state to state”; and also that we are connected to a core of belonging forged from earth and spirit. These gorgeous poems are incantations of legacy, deep roots, disturbance, destruction, flight, and transformation.”
—Julie Gard, author of Home Studies
"Through the art of attention, Sheila Packa elevates the landscape of northern Minnesota to the holy. Each poem is a room rich with texture, imagery, and sound that resonates long after one puts the verses down. This is a book to simultaneously lose oneself and find oneself in."
—Darci Schummer, author of Six Months in the Midwest