Note: This broadside is part of our annual translation special, in which we feature work in a language indigenous to the Americas. Our Guest Editor, Jennifer Elise Foerster, selected this poem. We are grateful for her time and vision. Of her choices and this broadside, she has this to say:
As humans we may be linguistically unique, but we are not unique among beings in having language.
All beings have language, though we often can’t hear their frequencies or understand their communications. Too often, we don’t even try to listen.
When human language makes the shape of listening, this, to me, is a poem.
“Corn Foods Make Me Think” is a poem that listens, not just to its writer’s, Michelle Whitsone’s, Diné language and how it shifts, names, and creates meaning, but it also listens to the corn. Michelle Whitstone asks the readers to think alongside her, to consider the language of corn and the language we give to corn as valuable as the corn itself.
This poem feels born from a space between languages, a place where translation’s generative possibilities thrive. One translation needn’t overpower another, as both are translations, or “thinkings,” of corn and how corn’s many forms exist in relation: not just in relation to humans who are nourished by it, but in relation to that which it is nourished by: sun, fire, water, earth, even the hands of other beings (in this poem, us). The poem in this way seems to give homage to the necessity of our interconnectedness, but more specifically, to the necessity of an interconnectedness that depends on diversity.
This poem reminds us that corn-being is a plural being, despite having been forced into a monolithic system as a monoculture crop. Corn is a being with unique modes of communication, with many purposes, voices, and forms, but these forms and languages have been grossly suppressed by agricultural systems that treat “corn” as an exploitable commodity to be produced en masse, despite the now evident disastrous effect of these production systems on biodiversity, and despite the knowledge that these systems of production are doing the opposite of feeding the world—they are fueling our climate crisis.
The hundreds of languages that have existed on this continent long before colonization have suffered devastating losses from hegemonic powers that continue to attempt monopolization through erasure of diversity. The diversity of human languages (and the diversity of our peoples) is not that different from biodiversity. Our survival as people depends on it.
We are living in a world now experiencing the catastrophic effects of biodiversity loss. This poem should remind us all that our languages—including the language of listening, the language of poetry—can fight back, can return to the spaces where they were driven underground, and from that soil, flower there.
The deep roots of our diverse languages are still here. The roots, like that of a forest, are speaking with one another. Let us become better listeners.
—Jennifer Elise Foerster
When you consider the full folio of work from this issue (see the “related broadsides” links on the left), what questions, observations, or connections arise for you?
Artist Regin Igloria: I tend to imagine other artists finding reasons to make work based on another artist’s work, and it generates further inquiry into my own practice. I try to learn from other responses, much like listening in on a conversation and waiting to chime in at the appropriate time.
What inspired you to bring your poem to Broadsided?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: I believe that there is a dire need for a shift in language, as I do believe that language is ontology; it explicates a way of living, being, and coming to know. A language and its meaningful dimensions provide signatures of our true existence in the universe. Creator knows me by my cry just as an ewe to her baby lamb. My language protects me and nurtures me and secures me.
What drew you to create a visual response to this poem, in particular?
Artist Regin Igloria: I was mostly drawn to the list format it took, specifically because it was so visually compelling: the space between words, the language I don’t read, even the parenthesis and accent marks. The poem had me think of my home, my mother, and being awake before others early in the morning.
How did this poem come to be?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: I was sitting at the table with my life-mentor, aka my mom, and we were contemplating all the different corn foods we need to teach our kids to make. We spelled them out and as we did, we talked about how it’s made (in an efficient way) and what we would need to gather. We imagined being a mother and a grandmother, discussing the artform of cornfood creation with our children and grandchildren. It would be encompassed with love and wonderful tasting food creations.
How did this image come to be?
Artist Regin Igloria: When I read the poem, I first considered my own relationship to corn, particularly how and when I consume it. I considered the idea of “process” being embedded in so many ways of existing. The moments I experience, whether in making art, eating food, or a combination of both, go through layers upon layers of process and change. It felt appropriate to use product packaging as a response to the poem, as everything we go through seems to be touched by commercialism.
What did you think an artist would pick up on from your poem? Does the artist’s response make you see the poem differently?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: I expected the artist to see corn differently—which he did, in his own way that paralleled the reason for the exposure of those words. They were meant to help us see way beyond just words and existence. I appreciate the shifted lens and how the industrialist mindset does affect our precious ecosystems. We are affecting nature and we need to find “the wayback” without going “way back.”
What question would you like to ask your collaborator?
Poet to Artist: Have you ever seen Diné people prepare corn foods? Have you ever tasted it?
Artist Regin Igloria: I haven’t done either, but since this collaboration I’ve been looking into how to do so!
Artist to Poet: Is there a place for money that does not cause harm?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: That’s an easy one. Rethink “money.” What our colonizers see is “money”…. what we see is “value;” something to trade. Colonized money has no place in our world, if we want our world to survive. The only way is to truly understand the value of everything, then maybe we can both come to an understanding on why corn is golden.
Did anything shift for you or come into new light as you began working on your visual response?
Artist Regin Igloria: I envisioned using actual cornbread boxes to collage, as re-purposing cardboard packaging is common in my practice, but I didn’t have any in my cupboards. The image was so clear in my mind—the particular yellow, blue, and red color relationship—so I spent quite a bit of time figuring out how I could get to a grocery store so late at night. I started making value-based decisions on consumerism and resources. I panicked about having to compromise ideas over business hours, which resulted in a return to some core values: use what you already have.
Have you ever written work that has been inspired by visual art?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: The world, my environment, is my visual art. Life, in all its glory in any given microsecond, is my visual art. I have this “thing” for tiny, seemingly insignificant things, like lint or pebbles or corners where no one cares to look. I think about people in certain places, staring into the void—and ducks in some Saskatchewan pond, with its furry bum up in the air and its neighborly duck, looking… but never caring to look at its bum.
Describe your dream “Vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: In a child’s journal, as a source of inspiration to live life to the fullest.
Artist Regin Igloria: I’d love to see it on an actual food product package sitting on shelves at the grocery store.
If this Broadsided collaboration were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: A very windy spring day—no one likes windy spring days on the rez because they seem lonely and depressing, but in reality, those are thoughts in our minds. What’s possible, can also be writ.
Artist Regin Igloria: One of those rare winter days when it’s been overcast for so long but the sun comes out. Or possibly a cool, rainy fall morning when you just want to stay inside and be cozy in bed.
Do you have a favorite, generative prompt for artists or writers you’d like to share?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: Randonimity—if it were a word.
Artist Regin Igloria: I have a list-building exercise in the form of a zine that I always offer my students on the first day of class.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: The Mindful Athlete by George Mumford.
Artist Regin Igloria: The Family Chao by Lan Samantha Chang.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Michelle Whitstone: Just mother nature.
Artist Regin Igloria: I was fortunate to meet Julia Arredondo recently at a panel through Artists Book House—some stellar zines and books.
Anything else? (Feel free to invent a question, add a comment, or otherwise speak to what the questions so far have not tapped about your Broadsided experience).
Poet Michelle Whitstone: I hate that money-mindedness causes our current dispositions, discomfort, distress and distrust. The world can be a far better place, in a shifted mindset—we just need to think outside of ourselves.
Artist Regin Igloria: We don’t make enough art in this world. I’m honored to have this opportunity to consider how this idea impacts the kinds of conflict that permeate our lives.