“Malångu I Maga’håga” / “The Woman Chief is Ill”
Note: This broadside is part of our annual translation special feature. This year’s guest editor is CMarie Fuhrman. We are grateful for her time and vision. Of her choices, she had this to say:
Last January I spent a few weeks in a country whose language I did not speak. I often had to rely on translators or a phone app to say what I needed to people along the way and to understand what they were saying to me. I could never say all I wanted. Never make small talk. I felt like I was horribly rude, coming to a country and not knowing the language, and I felt vulnerable—think of all the ways words protect us and what we miss when we cannot communicate with others. This made me think of ancestors, in the US and other countries, who have had their Native languages taken from them even as they remained on their own land. To disallow a language denies honest communication and can kill an entire culture.
What great comfort to know that some of those sleeping languages are awakening. I chose the work of these three poets as proof of the power of language and culture and because of the perseverance of these men who keep it alive in their bodies and poems. I invite you to look closely at the words in all the languages. Lose yourself in the Tlingit lines that flit and sing like the birds Ishmael Hope writes of. Try, as I did, to sing the words of Malångu i maga’håga! and hear the song and urgency, smell the fire and sea air in Jay Pascua’s Guam. Nigerian writer Akpa Arinzechukwu’s muscular lines hold thousands of years of survival and tradition as well as a beauty that comes from vulnerability and honesty. These poets each have collections of work that will broaden your world in any language and I know you will enjoy their words and the accompanying images as deeply as I do.
What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: It was interesting to see how the artist was moved to interpret my words in such a way that it complimented my poem.
Artist Lisa Sette: The quietness of it. The poem — is it about her dying? That’s what I took away from this, and how, even though we can be very far away from the earth, we are borne from energy. We go back to it.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: I believe there is an overlap. You’re attempting to convey a message outside of its original form so you must be aware of that dynamic. In each regard, there is an interpretation of the original piece.
Artist Lisa Sette: I have no idea. You’re responding to an interpretation, so of course it’s similar. What’s interesting about this particular poem is that because there’s so much repetition there’s a cadence that I can see even in the words I don’t literally understand.
Why this poem?
Artist Lisa Sette: “Ready the outrigger.” I feel the same way. I wasn’t born buried. I didn’t sprout from the earth, I was born from water. I love the repetition and pace of this poem. It is cyclical, and the proclamation keeps announcing itself, “The woman chief is ill!” And what are they doing? In the end, it will begin again.
When you consider all three broadsides of this folio together, what comes to mind?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: One poem spoke of nature and the other of death. My poem included these two subjects. It was as though we were meant to be featured together. It’s amazing that we did not collaborate.
Artist Lisa Sette: Spirits.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: I would love to see this poem/chant posted on the front gate of Ferdinand Magellan’s historic home. I would like it to serve as testimony to the fact that despite colonialism, two world wars, and Western influence, the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands and their language continue to exist.
Artist Lisa Sette: Someplace quiet and open. It’s a poem that asks us to consider mortality and continuance. There is something about loss, but life after death.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: It would be bursts of sunlight peeking through dark heavy rain clouds.
Artist Lisa Sette: Bright and misty.
You write your poems in both English and Chamorro–how do you balance the nuances and sounds of each language in your poems?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: I think of my poems as existing in two realities. It is meant to speak to both my ancestors and my contemporaries. The poems are chants and because there is a refrain in each piece it provides for continuity, a similar cadence, in each version.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: No, not lately.
Artist Lisa Sette: I did just finish the last chapter in a book about diamondback terrapins, Diamonds in the Marsh. Amazing creatures.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: I recently saw pictures of work from Darryl Dlt Thomson—a Maori artist. I love seeing and supporting work from Pacific Islander artists.
Artist Lisa Sette: We recently went to see Vija Celmins’s night sky series. Amazing!
Anything else? (Here, we invite the collaborators to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about their Broadsided experience).
Poet Jay Baza Pascua: I write and recite my poems/chants to honor my ancestors. There are multiple layers of messages within my work. My poems/chants almost exist in two different worlds and times. The social concepts and words written are derived from pre-colonial contact concepts. This particular piece recognizes the tenacity and resilience of my ancestors. This poem/chant was also inspired by a modern woman who was celebrating her fifth year of being cancer-free. The passage of the storm, in this poem/chant, is a metaphor for survival and renewal.
Artist Lisa Sette: I love the cadence of the poem. It really made me feel deeply. I’d like to thank the poet for that.