Note: This broadside is part of our annual translation special feature. This year’s guest editor is Tacey M. Atsitty. 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:
It’s been nearly a decade since I read Anthony K. Webster’s interpretation of the poem by Rex Lee Jim and all these years later it still resonates with me. In Webster’s book Explanations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics, he focuses on the use of ideophones of the poem. He writes, “[The poem] is built up of an onomatopoeia that has productively become a verb -tsǫǫs ‘to suck’ and then has been nominalized by the use of a nomilizing enclitic –í ‘the one'” (99-100). Jim uses onomatopoeia that embodies the mouse itself, impersonating himself (mouse) through sound. I love how sound and language have the ability to create oneself, or a version of oneself. Little did Ritsos know the profundity his poem would have with this little mouse.
—Tacey M. Atsitty
What surprised you about this collaborative piece?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: I simply approved the use of the selected poem.
Artist Meghan Keane: I didn’t realize at first how many collaborators were involved! It was a surprise and a pleasure to learn of the involvement of the translator as well as the poet, in addition to the editor selecting the poems for the translation feature.
Do you see an overlap between the act of translation and the act of responding visually to a piece of literature?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: Yes. I would like to see my poems read out loud, perhaps performed. So lately, I have been writing poems with the notion that they will be performed not only in Navajo but in other languages as well. And this process requires strong visual exercises.
Why this poem?
Artist Meghan Keane: I was immediately drawn to the relationship between the visual elements of the poem (the repetitive shapes of the letters) and the sounds of the poem (the repetitive sounds of the words). Rhythmic or musical qualities in art and writing always pull me in.
How does translation fit into your creative life?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: Being multilingual requires translation in all areas of your life on a daily basis. And a creative piece of writing can emerge out of any experience at any time. Sometimes these creative pieces are best expressed in another language other than the one in which it was initiated. And this requires translation.
If this broadside were a piece of music, what would it be?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: A protection song to be sung in a sweat lodge ceremony.
Artist Meghan Keane: To be completely honest, this is the first broadside I have done where I have no idea. The musicality of the poem is the music it is meant to be, I find. To add anything else would feel non-essential on my part.
If you had to represent this collaboration in one word, what would it be?
Artist Meghan Keane: It would be a letter: ǫ
Read any good books lately?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: To Repair the World by Paul Farmer. We need to use our literary and artistic skills to help repair the world.
Artist Meghan Keane: I read Death of a Salesman by Arthur Miller for the first time this summer as well as a handful of his essays discussing the play, and I was struck by how relevant and gutting the work feels. That little has changed is the most memorably devastating aspect.
Seen any great art lately?
Poet Rex Lee Jim: Yes. Lately I have been admiring paintings on Navajo spirituality by Rueben Richards.
Artist Meghan Keane: I have been looking at a lot of quilts and global textiles lately. These works are great and yet underacknowledged globally, another instance of women artists not receiving appropriate recognition. Very inspiring to spend time with their masterpieces, even if only through books or internet images.