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
Jonathan Locke Hart
Windfall Apples: Tanka and Kyoka
The dust of just beginning
Roy & Me: This Is Not a Memoir
Zeus and the Giant Iced Tea
Jonathan Locke Hart
The Kindness Colder Than the Elements
The Metabolism of Desire: The Poetry of Guido Cavalcanti
Translated by David R. Slavitt
poems by Naomi McIlwraith
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.
kîkwaya kâ-masinahikâtêki ôta — contents
FOREWORD by Jenna Butler
THE SOUNDS OF PLAINS CREE A Guide to Pronunciation
The Road to Writer’s Block (A Poem to Myself)
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
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
maskihkiy maskwa iskwêw ôma wiya ohci - For Medicine Bear Woman
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
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
I mean no wrong in writing
or speaking your language. I mean
to understand you on your terms,
in your words.
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.
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.
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,
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
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:
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,
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 —
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,