Surface Displacements

Surface Displacements

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For the preservation of wilderness and among those who search for home, these poems travel through mine pits and waterways vulnerable to environmental damage 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 stories and images, historical and contemporary, capture the beauty of the north and the resilience of people who are displaced, whose language is replaced, and who find a fluid space full of risk and possibility.


"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

About the Author

Sheila Packa is a poet and writer living in Duluth, Minnesota. She has an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College and has taught creative writing and composition at Lake Superior College. She leads poetry and creative writing workshops in community settings and often performs her work in music and media installations with her creative partner Kathy McTavish. She received a 2020 Minnesota State Arts Board Artist Initiative award for poetry, a fellowship from Finlandia Foundation National in 2016, two Loft McKnight Artist Fellowship awards (in poetry and in prose), a Loft Mentor award, and fellowships and grants from the Arrowhead Regional Arts Council. She has four books of poetry and edited the book Migrations, an anthology of Lake Superior writers. She served as Duluth's Poet Laureate in 2010-2012. Helsinki composer Olli Kortekangas used four of her poems for Migrations, a cantata for mezzosoprano and male voice choir, which was premiered by the Minnesota Orchestra in 2016. The recording Sibelius: Kullervo Kortekangas: Migrations: Minnesota Orchestra: Vänskä is available through BIS Records. For more information, go to


  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Wildwood River (June 13, 2022)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • Paperback ‏ : ‎ 142 pages
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 1947787365
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-1947787360
  • Item Weight ‏ : ‎ 7.7 ounces
  • Dimensions ‏ : ‎ 6 x 0.33 x 9 inches

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