Note: This broadside is part of our annual translation special feature. This year’s guest editor is CMarie Fuhrman. We asked her to select two poems—one from a forthcoming publication from Tavern Books, one by a poet writing in a language indigenous to the Americas. We are grateful for her time and vision. Of her choices, she had this to say:
Sometimes when I am walking along the Salmon River in Western Idaho, or hiking through a forested trail near the Wallowa’s in Eastern Oregon, I wonder if the trees and river; the elk, deer, and salmon, ever miss hearing their names. Their first names, the original names given them by the people to first know them. I have learned only a little Nez Perce, but I bring those words with me, say them softly to the purple camas, the red-tailed hawk. It is one way to acknowledge to remember. “Two or Three Thousand Years,” by Margaret Noodin and “The Silence” by Igor Barreto, are poems that appreciate not only place, but that which place holds, silence, history, and spirit. The original words, the indigenous language, hold these things as well, but also a truth and specificity that comes from deep knowing of place, from original knowledge. I ask as you read these to let the English translations be only a guide. Let your lips hold the Anishinaabemowin words, let the Spanish fill your mouth and pour out as music, honor these poets and these places by speaking the words, lean into the river, the silence, and know their names.
What surprised you about these collaborative pieces?
Poet Margaret Noodin: I was impressed with the way the lines of the image echoed the lines of the text as if the letters disassembled and became small waves on a body of water or river tracks across the continent.
Artist Meghan Keane: I was struck by the visual beauty of the poem–especially the double letters–and how it plays off of the character set-like patterns of the drawings. I can’t claim surprise but I can claim a love for the black and blue color relationship in the collaboration that highlights the distinct languages of the poem (original, translation) against the drawings that use color to collaboratively dance and echo back meaning.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Poet Margaret Noodin: I definitely see a continuum of artistic response in poetry and print. The idea moves as words from one language to another and then as color into a pattern. Both respond to the reality of a river and what water and its circulation means to the earth.
Artist Meghan Keane: Yes! Absolutely. I see and experience translating as constantly toggling between modes of expression, between specific meaning to similar-yet-different other specific meaning. Responding visually is always a question of legibility to me: how will my drawing be read? what are the multiple readings of it that coexist together? how can I translate the poem into a non-verbal experience yet maintain the poetic integrity and not veer into illustration?
Why this poem?
Artist Meghan Keane: I’ve always been magnetically drawn to twos, doubles, couples, duets, pairs of things, diptychs (etc) and also have invested a significant chunk of my life in becoming trilingual and traveler-proficient in a handful more. The visual double of two languages is always appealing to me, however I was particularly interested in how the Anishinaabemowin language
Also, I was born a stone’s throw from the Mississippi River so felt a proximity to the landscape of the poem. In both drawings I imagined the visuals being river-like or river qualities-adjacent. In the horizontal drawing, I read the poem line by line and imagined each row shapeshifting to match the natural elements described. In the vertical drawing, I started to conceive of the X marks as symbols to denote the riverbank and the marks to the left as the river and the whole being a sort of aerial view flyover made with familiar yet unknowable mark making, sort of map-like, sort of animal-track-like, sort of language / letter-like. That said, my imaginative conceptualizing shouldn’t overly determine anyone else’s experiences of the drawings. I am always curious to hear how the works are “read,” experienced, or felt by others; my hope is they open space for imagining rather than define it.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Margaret Noodin: I think it would be biisibiisaa, a fine rain, or madwebiisaa, the kind of rain we hear and know is washing the earth and completing the cycle of cloud to climate.
Artist Meghan Keane: Misty rain with a warm blanket.
How does translation fit into your creative life?
Poet Margaret Noodin: My poems begin in Anishinaabemowin but I live in a world of English speakers and readers so translation is essential if I want my writing to be understood by a wider audience. Translation allows me to move from one way of viewing the world to another and often leads to new translations. Right now I am working on a book of classic world literature translated into Anishinaabemowin so I have been thinking about Chaucer, Sappho, and the Haudenosaunee Thanksgiving Address in the language of the Great Lakes.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Margaret Noodin: I’ve been reading Gii-Nitaa-Aadisooke: Ojibwe Legends from Lac Seul told by Christie Ningewance and written by her daughter Patricia Ningewance who is a Professor at Algoma University. It is a wonderful book of rolling heads and obviative endings—the perfect mix of time-tested tradition and complex language that I love!
Artist Meghan Keane: White Fragility, The New Jim Crow, Judith Butler’s Frames of War. Thinking a lot about our obligations as artists to decolonize our brains and our works and how to reimagine how we model this culturally, interpersonally….
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Margaret Noodin: Last year I was honored to translate a poem written by visual artist Leo Yerxa. He collected several images in a children’s book titled Last Leaf, First Snowflake. As the seasons are turning, I am thinking of his beautiful words and images and how proud I was to be a part of hearing his ideas move from images into English into Anishinaabemowin.
Artist Meghan Keane: Have not been to a museum since May when I visited the Uffizi in Florence for the first time. Was moved to tears running into my favorite piece I did not realize had a permanent home there: Artemisia Gentileschi’s “Judith Beheading Holofernes.” Must be seen to be believed. She was doing Pollock splatter painting centuries before he was. It’s incredible.
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 Margaret Noodin: Challenged to Vectorize broadly, I recently read poetry at a local cooperative and was reminded of the importance of community, art, and poetry. Standing on a stage with fellow poets surrounded by good beer brewed in Milwaukee and fresh art on the walls I felt there might be some hope for humanity!
Artist Meghan Keane: I wanted to offer two visual responses to the poem since it felt appropriate to continue with the theme of translation and twos. I also honestly couldn’t just pick one and felt attached to each for different reasons, so thought offering them both would offer another read of the poem worth considering. As the viewer, you can decide which response resonates most. Thank you for the opportunity to respond not once, but twice, to this moving poem.