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 or 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 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 Akpa Arinzechukwu: Spirituality is a thing!!! I wrote a poem inspired by looking at an article of clothing a brother once wore alive, and an artist who works with fabrics ran with the feelings/emotion. The “othering” done by grief is a race one can’t afford to run or face but here Amy tells the reader/viewer: “here, see my pain, did I not survive?”
Artist Amy Meissner: My artistic interest lies at the intersection of textiles, craft practice, and grieving. While I strive to portray this visually in my work, I’m always moved to see it beautifully meld with the written word.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: The act of responding visually to a piece of literature is itself an act of translation. The two cannot be separated.
Artist Amy Meissner: Yes. I think the nuances and poetry of a literal translation will vary between translators based on their life experience, and this is the same with responding visually to anything, whether making something in response or simply standing in front of a work of art.
Why this poem?
Artist Amy Meissner: I found the mother’s presence in this poem heartbreaking. I don’t think we honor the heartbreak of the mother enough.
Describe your dream “vectorization”—where, in your wildest dreams, would you most like to see this broadside posted in the world?
Artist Amy Meissner: I would like to see this secretly tucked in our president’s diary, with marginalia all around it.
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: Funeral homes. Seriously, why not? I wish I could walk up to a morgue and post this now because the poem is for everyone who isn’t coming back to life forever. Trying to let the corpses know in Charlotte Smith’s words that:
With fond regret, and ceaseless grief deplored—
That grief, my angel! with too faithful art
Enshrines thy image in thy Mother’s heart.
If this broadside were a type of weather, what would it be?
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: Sunny. Don’t forget your umbrella at home, homey.
Artist Amy Meissner: Firestorm.
You write your poems in both English and Igbo–how do you balance the nuances and sounds of each language in your poems?
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: It is weird a queen who doesn’t even pay attention to their art. Ha-Ha. I use the guitar or the piano to balance sounds while writing/translating. I play some chords or strike some keys and the words that come to mind are written down. I go through that process till I have got a list. The Igbo language is that emotional creature, whereas the English language is that friend you’ll have to play every card to convince for a date. I play the cards singing out loud till the two friends can finally walk together in the garden.
Read any good books lately?
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: Yes. If You Keep Digging by Keletso Mopai. It is a wonderful collection of short stories, and Kalimba by Petero Kalule. Kalule is a musician, his lines tell it all. Also Empire of the Senses, essays edited by David Howes.
Artist Amy Meissner: Women and the Material Culture of Death, essays edited by Maureen Daly Goggin and Beth Fowkes Tobin.
Seen any good art lately?
Poet Akpa Arinzechukwu: Is it still “lately” when it is an art from a past exhibition that still haunts your present? The more you come to Chris Ofili’s “Iscariot Blues” the more you take out, the more heartbreaking that reality is.
Artist Amy Meissner: I’ve been studying Chiléan arpilleras, simple protest embroideries made by women during the Pinochet era, which depict daily scenes through the use of small dolls and scenes often made from the clothing of the disappeared.
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 Akpa Arinzechukwu: I am very hype about what Broadsided Press is doing. Thanks to CMarie for making this collaboration possible.
Artist Amy Meissner: When is the book coming out?