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kiyâm

MINGLING VOICES

Series editor: Manijeh Mannani

Give us wholeness, for we are broken.

But who are we asking, and why do we ask?

— PHYLLIS WEBB

Mingling Voices draws on the work of both new and established poets, novelists, and writers of short stories. The series especially, but not exclusively, aims to promote authors who challenge traditions and cultural stereotypes. It is designed to reach a wide variety of readers, both generalists and specialists. Mingling Voices is also open to literary works that delineate the immigrant experience in Canada.

Poems for a Small Park

E.D. Blodgett

Dreamwork

Jonathan Locke Hart

Windfall Apples: Tanka and Kyoka

Richard Stevenson

The dust of just beginning

Don Kerr

Roy & Me: This Is Not a Memoir

Maurice Yacowar

Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea

Leopold McGinnis

Musing

Jonathan Locke Hart

Praha

E.D. Blodgett

Dustship Glory

Andreas Schroeder

The Kindness Colder Than the Elements

Charles Noble

The Metabolism of Desire: The Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti

Translated by David R. Slavitt

kiyâm

poems by Naomi McIlwraith

AU Press logo

For my family: those who came before, those who will come after,

those who are nearby, and those who are far away,

but especially for my parents, Lavona Lillian McIlwraith

and the late Mowat Edgar McIlwraith.

ay hay!

kîkwaya kâ-masinahikâtêki ôtacontents

FOREWORD by Jenna Butler

THE SOUNDS OF PLAINS CREE A Guide to Pronunciation

FAMILY POEMS

The Road to Writer’s Block (A Poem to Myself)

Trademark Translation

paskwâhk - On the Prairie

kiya kâ-pakaski-nîmihitoyan - You Who Dance So Brightly

tawâw - There Is Room, Always Room for One More

Perfect Not Perfect

tawastêw - The Passage Is Safe

pahkwêsikan - Bread

ê-wîtisânîhitoyâhk asici pîkiskwêwin - Language Family

ê-wîtisânîhitoyâhk êkwa ê-pêyâhtakowêyâhk - Relative Clause

Critical Race Theory at Canadian Tire

RECLAMATION POEMS

Cree Lessons

tânisi ka-isi-nihtâ-âhpinihkêyan - How to Tan a Hide

aniki nîso nâpêwak kâ-pîkiskwêcik - Two Men Talking

nohtâwiy opîkiskwêwin - Father Tongue

ninitâhtâmon kititwêwiniwâwa - I Borrow Your Words

aniki nîso nâpêwak kâ-masinahikêcik - Two Men Writing

sâpohtawân - Ghost Dance

ê-kî-pîcicîyâhk - We Danced Round Dance

A FEW IDEAS FROM amiskwacî-wâskahikanihk

The Young Linguist

tânisi ka-isi-nihtâ-pimîhkêyan - How to Make Pemmican

HISTORY POEMS

maskihkiy maskwa iskwêw ôma wiya ohci - For Medicine Bear Woman

mistahi-maskwa

Take This Rope and This Poem (A Letter for Big Bear)

sôhkikâpawi, nitôtêm - Stand Strong, My Friend

kâh-kîhtwâm - Again and Again

nikî-pê-pimiskân - I Came This Way by Canoe

Spinning

Practicing for My Defence

Like a Bead on a String

ihkatawâw ay-itwêhiwêw - The Marsh Sends a Message

kakwêcihkêmowin ohci kânata otâcimowina - A Question for Canadian History

kiskinohamâkêwin ohci kânata otâcimowina - An Instruction for Canadian History

kiyâm - Let It Be

NOTES ON THE POEMS

CREE-ENGLISH CORRESPONDENCES

BIBLIOGRAPHY

PUBLICATION CREDITS

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

foreword

I mean no wrong in writing

or speaking your language. I mean

to understand you on your terms,

in your words.

Naomi McIlwraith

kiyâm is a beautiful and contentious collection that explores the ways in which a writer may speak stories from a world many consider her not part of, but one to which she is spiritually very close. Naomi McIlwraith addresses these concerns through her poetry and its liminal navigations of the borders between English and Cree, between written and spoken texts. She brings to the forefront her concerns about voice and the right to speak certain stories, but rather than allowing voice to become something that circumscribes and limits her, she attempts to represent a variety of histories and stories in a respectful manner and with a careful ear for the essential musicality of language. She engages with an intersection of cultures and histories in a way that pays great honour to all these histories and to the overarching power of the personal narrative — in her case, the one connecting strand that pulls all of her divergent worlds together. McIlwraith strives to engage with each of her worlds with understanding, but she is also wry, humorous, and deeply honest. Her voice is a clear and engaging one, navigating the uneasy waters of translation/transliteration with care and grace.

kiyâm is a direct engagement with European literary tradition and the history/baggage of the written word, held up against the oral tradition of the First Nations and Métis. The collection provides an intriguing view of a woman and a writer treading the pathways between those worlds, knowing that certain stories are in danger of being lost and that moving them from the oral world to the written world is one of the most certain ways of preserving them, yet knowing at the same time that this move alters their essential meaning and form.

This is an important collection in its negotiation of two vastly different linguistic worlds. Possessing a deep-felt respect, as well as many moments of startling beauty, kiyâm is a collection that is sure to challenge and inspire, and, most certainly, to resonate.

Jenna Butler

the sounds of plains cree: a guide to pronunciation

Drawing on the scholarship of Arok Wolvengrey, Jean Okimâsis, and others at the Cree Editing Council in Saskatchewan, as well as on that of Freda Ahenakew and H. Christoph Wolfart, I have used the Standard Roman Orthography (SRO) to represent the sounds of nêhiyawêwin, the Plains Cree language. The work of these scholars has contributed greatly to the accurate preservation of Plains Cree pronunciation. The description below is based on Okimâsis and Wolvengrey’s How to Spell It in Cree, especially chapter 3, “What to Use to Spell in Cree.”

Plains Cree has ten consonants: c, h, k, m, n, p, s, t, w, and y. The consonants h, m, n, s, w, and y sound very similar to their counterparts in English. The consonants c, k, p, and t, however, differ from their English counterparts.

The letter c most commonly represents the ts sound we hear in the English word “bats,” although in some dialects or regional variations of Plains Cree, the c sounds more like the ch in “batch.” In contrast to English, the c never represents the sound of a k (“call”) or an s (“cinnamon”).

The letter k sounds like the k in “skate,” falling roughly between the k in “Kate” and the g in “gate.”

The letter p sounds like the p in “spit,” falling roughly between the p in “pit” and the b in “bit.”

The letter t sounds like the t in “steal,” falling roughly between the t in “teal” and the d in “deal.”

Plains Cree has three short vowels (a, i, o) and four long vowels (â, î, ô, and ê).

a sounds like the English a in “above” and the English u in “upheaval,” but never like the u in “use” or “put”

â sounds somewhat like the English a in “rather” or the a in the word “father” if it were spoken with an Irish accent (Okimâsis and Wolvengrey, 7)

i sounds like the English i in “pit” or “mitt,” but never like the i in “pine” or “mine”

î sounds like the English i in “nectarine,” but never like the i in “fine”

o sounds like the English o in “only” or the oo in “foot” or the u in “put”

ô sounds like the English o in “toe” or oa in “coat,” and sometimes like the oo in “moose”

ê sounds like the English ay in “bay” or ai in “grain.” The vowel ê has no short counterpart.

The “h-consonant” cluster, as Okimâsis and Wolvengrey call it, occurs whenever an h precedes any consonant C. It has a significant effect on the vowel that precedes the h, in most cases equalizing the difference between long and short. This means that it can be very difficult to distinguish between a short and a long vowel before an hC cluster.

Plains Cree has distinct and predictable patterns of stress, which are quite independent of vowel length. Two-syllable words generally place the stress on the last or ultimate syllable, as in pêyak (pay yuk) or atim (uh tim). Words with three or more syllables place the greatest stress on the third to last, or antepenultimate, syllable, as in awâsis (uh waa sis) or awâsisak (uh waa sis suk). Words of five or more syllables place a slight secondary stress on every second syllable preceding the antepenultimate syllable. For example, nitâniskotâpân is pronounced “ni taa nis ko taa paan.” These patterns of stress lend a melodic quality to Plains Cree speech that makes the language very pleasurable to hear.

Readers interested in learning more about Plains Cree grammar and pronunciation will find a variety of sources listed in the bibliography. This book is also accompanied by an audio version, available on the AU Press website.

kiyâm

FAMILY POEMS

The Road to Writer’s Block (A Poem to Myself)

Turn left at desire. Take this burden

and never let go. Cling

as a burr latches onto fleece.

Be sure that your load includes

the self-imposed responsibility to learn

a threatened language: namely nêhiyawêwin.

Go home: kîwê.

Head north: kîwêtinohk itohtê.

Take a route unknown to you.

Do not plan too far

into the future. Do step forth with mute

naïveté. Invent a folktale so fantastic it can’t

be disbelieved. Do this in the same way

you would mould green truth from fact, tender

as the first prairie crocus — wâpikwanîs.

The story must tell of your entitlement:

your right to write

poetry in this native tongue. Approach

this task without foresight,

as you would a one-way street on a dark night,

backwards: naspâci.

Entitlement: a provocative word

when it comes to language and culture,

a word so easily twisted to mean

ownership. Worry about this enough

that it becomes humiliating.

Try reading and writing your second

mother tongue before listening and speaking.

Forget that poetry and Cree were spoken before written. Forget

this as you might your toothbrush, aspirins, or first-aid kit.

Forget not your Cree dictionaries,

because for all your literacy your aural

memory will be poor when you see the words

in print, twenty-five or even fifty times.

Bear the millstone of language loss

the way a woman drags home the last

buffalo: paskwâwi-mostos,

as you confront the colonial tongue.

âkayâsîmowin: the only patois

you’ll ever perform with any finesse.

Learn how you’ve not learned

another mother tongue, well, a father

tongue: Scots Gaelic. Never mind

provisions other than baggage so heavy

it will take you years to reach your destination.

Don’t forget your heaviest tool,

a wrench to repair the damage you wrought

in admonishing your father for speaking

in code: namely nêhiyawêwin.

Take a course so meandering you’ll forget

where you’re going. Learn the Latin terms,

and then forget them,

for beauty you’ll behold before

even considering their Cree existence:

pelicans, bitterns, Great Blue herons, mergansers.

Now, write these bird words in nêhiyawêwin:

cahcahkiwak, môhkahâsiwak, misi-môhkahâsiwak, asihkwak.

Detour around decades of indifference

until you’re so far past puberty

that learning a second language disorients

you the way adolescence

attacks all its victims,

the way an overturned canoe crashes

through wild rapids.

Become so encumbered procrastination

offers your only reprieve. Argue with your sister

with such intensity she is moved

to leave a message on your answering machine,

how she couldn’t sleep last night: a wrangle

about history and pioneers and Indians,

the Indian Act and racism and loss.

Argue from the passenger seat of her parked car,

so ferociously you can’t quite separate

one issue from the other, or

even remember what your position is. Fathom

your frustration. Negotiate

an awkward amnesty two nights later

in a telephone conversation,

but contemplate your confusion

as a monk might meditate on meaning.

Once you find

your way back to a quest choked

with bus fumes, stinging nettles, and inarticulateness,

ruminate on your lack of fluency:

namôya nipakaski-nêhiyawân.

Embark on this pilgrimage in the midst

of your father’s passing. Start

a poem for your father, two weeks after he dies,

and title it tawâw, but leave it

for a year because it’s just too hard to write.

Tell Cree people why you,

a môniyâskwêw,

try to write poetry in Cree and English. Tell

them in nêhiyawêwin as they lean

toward your crude Cree, trying

to understand, trying to give you some of their loss.

Speak these words, over and over, rehearsing them until you know you sound fluent:

ninôhtê-nêhiyawân ayisk ê-kî-pakaskît nohtâwîpan. ayîki-sâkahikanihk

ohci wiya mâka môya ê-kî-nêhiyâwit, kî-môniyâwiw.

êkwa mîna ê-âpihtawikosisâniskwêwit nikâwiy.

Say these words because they’re the most important. Consider

your mother’s experience, because she’s old enough to want

not to talk about being Métis. Study

the boundaries of the Métis National Council and then

don’t worry about them because they’re just like

four first-place ribbons at a local track meet. Stop

short of immersing yourself in a Cree community, the most

effective means of achieving fluency.

Learn about Cree syllabics:

Become so literate

you can teach them and maybe even

Standard Roman Orthography,

but don’t expect fluency in a classroom.

When you write that word —

cahkipêhikanak,

doubt your tongue and consult your grammar

guide yet again just to make sure

you got the plural suffix right. Now quit

doubting yourself because your tongue remembers.

Take on transcribing and transliterating

a Catholic prayer book — written entirely

in Cree syllabics — that takes

only God knows how long to complete,

Would you like to know how the story ends?

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