The reindeer-herding Sami of far northern Scandinavia sing a joik* to express and connect with someone or something. The joik belongs not to the composer or the singer but to its object. Descended from shamanistic practice, a joik doesn’t so much describe as conjure up.
A lonely man, missing his late parents, might joik them for comfort. A woman might joik a blizzard in all its power, using few lyrics or none. The Sami do not sing about a bear. They sing a bear.
In our language and culture, we may paint or sculpt a bear, or perhaps act or dance one. Why, then, can we only write or sing about it? It’s as though visuals and impersonations recreate their subject, while words hold it at a distance. As a writer, I yearn to bring my subject into being, like the Sami. I’d love to be able to write a bear.
* Rhymes with toy, but starts with a Y sound and ends with a K. Also spelled yoik.
I'm a historian who writes novels and literary nonfiction. My home base is Madison, Wisconsin.