How does seeing the visual response to the poem shift your perception of it?
Translator Margaret Noori: It is beautiful and carries the collaboration to one more dimension.
Poet Heid Erdrich: There’s a freedom and elegance to the visual response that I certainly did not feel when I was writing it, or when I was working with Margaret as she translated and re-expressed it. There’s movement, too, in the image, which I really appreciated since Ojibwe is a verb-based language. I was surprised by the energy in the image as well. I think of the original poem (my poem trigger for Margaret’s more substantial work) as quiet, methodical, like the work of putting laundry on the line—but dreamy and associative as well. Megan Keane’s artwork lifts the poem wonderfully and gives it air and light.
This poem translates itself as it moves. How did that act influence your visual response?
Artist Meghan Keane: My work often deals with layers, movement and gesture. It was very organic for this visual response to loop, drape, and flow in ways similar to the unfolding and self-translating quality of the poem. Previous installation work of mine has paid and drawn attention to the points of connection by using clothes pins. I think my love of clothes pins was part of what wooed me to this poem in the first place. The visual staccato of pins, the punctuating quality of clipped-up laundry on a line has always struck me as a particular aesthetic experience. Ultimately, I was influenced and inspired by the whole of the poem: the structural repetition, the rhythm the cycles create, and the images of clothes lines, billowing natural elements, and clothes pins. I felt acute sensations of air and truth and life after reading the poem and hope the response adequately captures this vitality.
Can you talk about the decision(s) you and Margaret made to create this final poem, which I know originally began as one, smaller piece?
Poet Heid Erdrich: It’s funny how, as a poet, I organize a poem for a certain effect, but I forget that, if it is a well-written poem, the organization falls away so as not to interfere with the imagery in the poem. I thought Margaret would recognize that I took the English definitions of all the words on two pages of the Nichols and Nylhom Ojibwe Dictionary (clothespin through control) and wrote lines toward those words. Margaret’s translations did not always use the exact words from those pages—but, in fact that made her translation and re-expression stronger and more her own.
Margaret, you wove your translations into the text so that they became part of the poem’s story—can you talk about that experience?
Translator Margaret Noori: It was very much like swimming through wind instead of water with the same body you have always used, but surrounded by something new.