I am in the midst of writing for a performance in a couple of weeks (November 7 at the Canadian Festival of Spoken Word in Montreal, PQ). Ahhhh!!! I’ve been asked by a fellow poet, performer and singer, the fabulous Moe Clark to do a collaboration with an equally fabulous musician and budding media artist, Melody McKiver. So it’s happening at incredible snail-like speeds.
In between the writing, I am struggling with translation from English to Anishnaabemowin. I’ve written some poetry in Anishnaabemowin or atleast with a few words scattered here and there in the prose. I find it difficult not being a fluent speaker because in English it might make sense to be using similes or metaphors. I haven’t quite figured it out in Anishnaabemowin. I find the language beautiful with all the syllables and meaning behind the words. Although I am a poet so I see great significance in words and how they are used. So in Anishnaabemowin the language might be more practical just how our ancestors were. I was reminded by a friend that our people were not mystical in the New Age sense but were more practical in matters. Yes they had a deep spiritual practice but also had very practical ways of living.
I got caught up in these dilemmas early on. It was like my one raven’s eye catching all the flashy things and my mind chasing them. And I would oblige.
So if I write about trees in English: how the roots reach down into the earth / i travel those roots to speak to our ancestors. When I translate that to Anishnaabemowin – is that possible? Would a fluent speaker actually speak this way? Maybe these questions will answer themselves as I delve deeper into the language and my understanding will surface. Or I can write about the importance of certain words and the significance they personally have on me? I’ve seen many Indigenous writers do this. It’s our poetic spirit that sees our language as holding something more like a key to discovering lost knowledge. I know I do this sometimes. If only I spoke my language will the land speak back to me? Or is it more about the intent we give out and look to receive and not necessarily the language we use?
Now I found the way and that is by telling a story of how places got their names. Great thanks to Basil Johnson for this inspiration and also to those who carry stories about Nanabush that I’ve been reading and listening to. It’s all coming together. Now all I have to worry about is animate and inanimate verbs, transitive and intransitive verbs, prefixes and suffixes, and to make some sort of sense of it all. Oh yeah then to speak it and give life to the story while Melody plays her viola will be pretty amazing as well. Wish us luck!
Speaking my ancestors language is alive and well. Or will be with dedication, practice, and continued inspiration.