Charmaine E. Elijah is a poet and scholar from the Oneida of the Thames. She studied Aboriginal Studies at the University of Toronto and is currently at Western University where she studies Anishinabbe, the original languages and cultures of the Great Lakes area.
CHARMAINE'S POEMS & INTERVIEW (FOLLOWED BY DAVID D. PLAIN'S AND GLORIA ALVERNAZ MULCAHY'S).....................
Satkatho ka’ik^ kayatale , lolihwa’ne’tsk^ kwe.
Look at this picture, he was a gentle person.
Shiyatk^la’:tu’ laksohtak^ Harley luwaytskwe.
I set him free, my grandfather, Harley was my grandpa’s name.
Okwali ne;ho’ talot^ nen laksothk^.
Bear was the clan of my grandfather.
Kanuhtunya’kwas wahatshanu:ni kaika kayatale.
I think he got happy in this picture.
Katsa okunu Montreal ye:les’kwea;e tkyo’t^hsla’wanu.
Somewhere in Montreal, he was there at this job site big.
Kayatale, lakhalo’lihe’ “wahsatkahlo’klike’ okahle tsi’niyotshanunya’:t”
In this picture, he is telling me “you wink and it is really happiness, that makes one happy”.
-Watahti/ Charmaine E.
Othayuni henik ty’ote’ Kalu:yake
He’nok kaik^ loya’tal’^’
A while ago this male artist
Ksina’:ke lohya:tu: nen Othayuni olu:ya
On my leg he has written a wolf blue
Okhale kwa’shute’: ke okhale ostisto’kwa
and a moon with some stars.
Otayuni, lotla’:lu kwa’shute:ke
Wolf, he is watching the moon.
Yukisotha, he”nik tyote ne kaik^.
Our grandmother, it is high this one.
Othayuni’s ata’k^la niwassahko’:t^ lakahla’ke
Wolf’s grey are the colour of his eyes.
Wa’kewy^tehtane Othayuni wa’shakoliho’thase kutilih okhale
I learned wolf lectured others/them wild animals and
Wolf protected us.
The need to believe in yourself is a very important part of living.
Being able to breathe without self-respect and dignity is like not existing at all.
“You are but a rock thrown to a ditch, as you are seen yet not acknowledged not even by yourself”.
Many people give up at a young age, usually after committing their first act of failure
or negative act of an immorally or incorrect offense.
Not realizing that we all make mistakes.
Much wisdom is gained from each day from the wrong we do to ourselves.
“Like a bear we have strength and we both have to take a risk once in awhile.
Imperfection is a part of life just as perfection is.
We face both everyday even within ourselves.
We cannot continue to lose meaning for life by proving our weakness as we hide our strength.
Roses are delicate and sensitive yet they have the power to make an angry woman smile; even
though the thorns of a rose are insensitive, they smile back.
Life was one had, I felt like an eagle that had no flight,
Trying to climb a mountain top where I fell in cold thunderstorm rain,
I felt I could make no gain,
I felt I could not fight.
Everywhere I went was the coldness of dark,
Where many of my friends for life had gone dead,
One day I had awaken before the dawn,
This Picture of brightness gave my life spark,
Just as there is both a night and a day,
I know I could change, too.
The one frightened eagle gave out one last cry,
He realized he would not have to die,
He noticed his sharp Talons,
They for the first time glowed showing him his protection,
During this time I let out a sigh,
I saw that I would not have to cry for cruelty or rejection,
Together, we flew on a natural high, long above the mountain sky.
O.M: I wonder if you’d share your thoughts about whether poetry might have an ethical dimension –– both in how it allows us to relate to ourselves and the ways in which it opens up the possibility of encounters with others.
Charmaine E. Elijah: Yes, I think that poetry has an ethical dimension. Robert Frost is one of my favorite poets. Frost had 20 certificates with poetry. He lived to be an elderly man. Frost's life was full of dark incidents. He lost a daughter to fever, he lost his wife. Behaved downly and weird had a breakdown. His son committed suicide in the 1940's. His daughter Irma was mentally ill. This was a terrible scene in the 1940's. Frost has a high reputation today for the modesty in his persona. Meanwhile, Wallace Stevens (1879-1955) places his pleasant poem s as readings to mystify. He didn't wine so much but dwelt on the beauty of the world. He was emphasizing with the imagination to his poetry and this was pure pleasure to share for him to share. Sometimes I think of all emotions and how to express my feelings in a poem.
O.M: How does the process of writing in Oneida compare to writing in English?
C.E: Form and sound are important in any language as far as poetry goes. The contents of the words offer insight.
O.M: Expand, if you would, on how the symbolic expression of emotion opens up new ways experiencing or rendering those emotions?
C.E: Symbolic expression of emotions opens up new ways of experiences or renders these emotions by depicting the artistic or verbal reproduction and releases the emotions or strong feelings one is experiencing. A concious aspect of sharing a state or feeling is very empowering and especially essential to me, while I write my poetry.
DAVID'S POEMS & INTERVIEW
Ojibway creation story in tercet poetic form.
Behold the cosmos, all that is in it
Great mystery shaped an awesome creation
Each thing that exists, does so with spirit.
Only the human is yet to be made
But first a council, each spirit summoned
The Master of Life free heartedly bade
Come now to reason, yes to determine
If all in accord, the spaces shall live
Objection brings death, less than an urchin
Consensus achieved! the spirits agree
To give of themselves, sustain the weakling
The human shall live, propped up by decree
Creator creates, environs nurture
The poor naked soul who cannot survive
Feeble in power brings only failure
Thanks is in order and so we lay down
Tobacco in prayer for love and for grace
Sacred plant given for gifts that abound.
The complete meaning of the Ojibwa word Aamjiwnaang in a sonnet. Aamjiwnaang is a descriptive noun for the outlet of Lake Huron where it perpetually empties itself into the St. Clair River and its environs. The imagery in the poem represents Aamjiwnaang at the time of Confederation in 1867.
Tumbling waters tumbling by
Past boulders, and rock bed two visions vie
Thunderous falls versus mist clouds on high
Jointly both beckon to gathering nigh
Into narrow strait swift current weaves braid
Then flowing upstream beneath placid shade
In midst river yet deep deluge’s not staid
Bright dancing sunbeams reveal spirits rayed
Now downstream widens its turbulence past
Deep water belies an irenic cast
Yet peaceful shallows raise tall reeds at last
Abode of both fish and waterfowl vast
Shore boasts of maple, oak, elm all grasses
Shading wild fruit trees abundantly massed.
Inside My Mother’s Womb
The Ojibwe Sweat Lodge Ceremony is poetic form.
At the centre of four directions
Inside my mother’s womb
Where spiritual healing begins
Steam rises in grandfathers’ plume
Spiritual power is given
To feminine water by cedars
Tobacco is burned a gift of prayer
Bless twenty plus eight grandfathers
Sweet grass and sage is laid
Before Creator’s altar
Handled with loving care
By fire keeper and his helper
This dome shaped lodge
It seems one door
But no, the Spirit
Sees three more
Facing east the first door’s purpose
To enter and exist this sacred place
Grandfather rocks red hot allow
Steam to rise a healing grace.
Drum struck four times
Eagle whistle calls
Manito helpers enter
Through spiritual walls
From each direction they come to help
Through prayer lamented
Curing soul’s sickness
And songs are chanted
Each one in turn
When all is done
All cleansed this way
O.M: "Objibwa" is spelt with a terminal a in "Aamjiwaang" and a terminal e in "Inside My Mother's Womb"; do you have a preference as to which spelling I should use in my questions?
David Plain: I prefer Aanishnaabek, which is what we called ourselves. However, I use the English word for our Nation often because it is so recognizable by the wider audience. Over time, I have found myself using Ojibwa, Ojibwe, Ojibway and Chippewa. A friend who was editing my book pointed out the very example you have mentioned, so I standardized it.
O.M: Aamjiwnaang is an area-specific noun of a kind we don’t find in English. For example, an English descriptive noun such as “fork” is potentially attributable to any place, to the point at which any river, rather than a specific river, divides into two parts. Does the area-specific nature of the Ojibwa language evoke a different sort of worldview from the worldviews constructed within non-area-specific languages? Would you share a few words about the fundamental relationship of place to the Ojibwa language?
D.P: Actually, I believe there are area-specific nouns in English that are comparable to Aamjiwnaang. Bluewater Country is one that even speaks of the same area. Huronia is another. Ojibwa place names usually spoke to a significant feature of a band's territory. This, in turn, was used to denote the name of the band and its territory. Here are a couple of examples: Amikouai Ojibwa lived on the north shore of Georgian Bay. A feature of their territory was the great beaver hunting grounds. Their name is derived from the word amik meaning beaver. They were also called the beaver people. The Mississauga Ojibwa lived to their north along the Mississauga River, which was known for the great number of bald eagles that nested there. Mississauga comes from the Ojibwa word for bald eagle, which is mgizwaazh.
O.M: In stanzas two and five of “Inside My Mother’s Womb” respectively appear the phrases “Spiritual power is given / To feminine water by cedars” and “Grandfather rocks red hot allow / Steam to rise a healing grace”.
I wonder if you’d share a few explanatory words about the understanding of the old Ojibwa that objects or natural forces are ancestral, gendered, and/or supernatural and describe the importance of this understanding to the Ojibwaan conception of the world.
D.P: The Ojibwa world was at once a spiritual world and a physical one. Our universe was filled with spiritual entities. Every object, both animate and inanimate was blessed with a spirit. There was also a multitude of spiritual beings that could move from the spirit world to the physical world through the portals attached to a sacred place. The sweat lodge became a sacred place once consecrated by the ceremony. Hence, the spiritual doors through which the spirits passed when called from each cardinal direction. The rocks that are heated are called grandfathers by the men and grandmothers by the women because of the wisdom they exude when sprinkled with the cedar water. Other objects are attributed gender names such as mother earth, grandmother moon and grandfather sun denoting a familial relationship with the Ojibwa. We are all related. The spiritual world was considered the real world while the physical world was an illusion. That is why dreams were so important. Dreams were one of the clearest conduits between the two worlds. There really wasn't anything supernatural in the Ojibwa conception of the world, which included both, due to our holistic worldview.
O.M: Relatedly, stanza six contains the phrase “Manito helpers enter / Through spiritual walls.” Would you sketch out a description of ‘Manito’ and the significance of the Manito to Ojibwaan thought and spirituality?
D.P: Manito is an English word derived from the Ojibwa mnidoo meaning spirit. There were many spirits all around the Ojibwa world. Some were helping spirits, some were mischievous and some evil. Some could change their demeanor. Every act and happenstance had some aspect, if not all, attributed to spiritual activity. So the mnidoog (pl.) played an integral part in the daily lives of the Ojibwa.
O.M: Broadly speaking, you've moved from discovering and transcribing history to writing poetry. I wonder if you would say a few words about what that transition has been like for you, and how your work as an historian has influence or prepared you for the writing of poems.
D.P: I would say I've more expanded into poetry rather than transitioned. I still write history non-fiction as well as historical fiction. I am currently working on a sequel to 1300 Moons, which of course is another novel. I got into poetry on a challenge. Initially, I didn't think I could write a poem but found I could and not only that I found the exercise to be extremely relaxing. So, I now find writing poetry as a form of r&r. My love of history and the writing of it has provided me with events which I have used in some of my poems as well as making me more cognizant of the human emotions and drama that hopefully make my poems come alive.
O.M: Relatedly, 1300 Moons is under contract with a film production company from Toronto for a TV drama series. I wonder if you would say a few words about your enthusiasm or tentativeness about the (perhaps professionally unfamiliar) collaboration such a contract would entail.
D.P: Film production is a new and exciting phase of my writing career. I am enthusiastically looking forward to being involved in a TV drama series and so look forward to seeing the final product on the screen. It seems to be a long process and is in the early stages of development. One of the production company's vice president, a former screenplay writer, and myself have co-written the pilot episode. They have written the "Bible" for the project and have taken on an executive producer who is currently shopping it around. Although it is exhilarating which produces a high level of anticipation patience is required. Should it be successful and move into production they have asked me to be intimately involved approving all scripts for historical and cultural accuracy as well as involvement in auditions, set and costuming and off-site film locations. I am really looking forward to this new and exciting career expansion.
Alvernaz Mulcahy's most recent book, Borderlands & Bloodlines, is focused on her indigenous roots-exploring how displacements and re-locations become journeys of necessity. The poems reflect on all our relations where cultures/races and classes touch edges occupying land, sea and sacred spaces.
Alvernaz Mulcahy is co-author of several poetry books and various CDs with sound poet P. Kemp including Gathering Voice (2004) and Pinceladas in 2005. She launched Pinceladas (in English and Spanish) at Centro Cultural Canadá-Córdoba, Argentina de la Universidad Nacional de Córdoba. Her most recent publication, Viva la Vida is part of an Anthology of collaborative textual poetry and is based on two poems about Frida Kahlo-mestiza (Alvernaz Mulcahy) and Frida on Exhibit (P. Kemp) which culminated in a video poem edited by videographer D. Sneppova featuring Alvernaz Mulcahy as Frida and includes her photography from Mexico and videography. Alvernaz Mulcahy's poetry is featured in various books including Four Women and Origins (Red Kite Press) and appears in various anthologies - New voices: A celebration of new Canadian poetry (Clifton Whiten, Ed.; Mosaic Press) and Anthology of magazine verse and yearbook of American poetry(A.F. Pater, Ed.; Beverly Hills: Monitor Books). She is a mixed media artist-filmmaker, photographer, and musician, and more recently has created drawings influenced by petro glyphs & pictographs combined with her poetry.
GLORIA'S POEMS & INTERVIEW
a closer look
at the garden where
where the flowers
and the skin
of trees tell
of sun and wind
and the leaves
sing up their
i find some
who tell amusing
eavesdrops on earthlings
that sun rises
out of the sea
and moon in love
with the sea
pulls the tides
and how grief
in a black cloud
note/ an aside--I wrote this while in Puerto Rico
also I can sing the Puerto Rico National Anthem
which I accompany with guitar (classical)
c h i m e r a s
perfection of alignments
this stormy notion
of what we choose to see
when transformations whisper
in my ear
on a road
where clouds gather in
this perfection of alignments
to sing up a
seamless starry night
and yet the w i nd stirs leaves
with her gentle vibrato
a gift of soft summer
s o n g
OM: Gloria you mentioned parenthetically that “Seeing” was written in Puerto Rico, a country whose national-anthem, La Borinqueña, you can sing to classical-guitar accompaniment.
In addition to asking whether you would share this anthem with us at Mykonos in May, I’d like to provide the lyrics (in both Spanish and, as accurately as I’m able, in English) as part of this question, and ask you to offer us a few words about how fundamentally an anthem can shape (or reflect) the worldview of a people.
La tierra de Borinquen The land of Borinquen
donde he nacido yo where I was born
es un jardín florido is a flowering garden,
de mágico fulgor. blazing with magic.
Un cielo siempre nítido An eternally-clear sky
le sirve de dosel serves as its canopy
y dan arrullos plácidos and placid lullabies are sung
las olas a sus pies. by the waves at its feet.
Cuando a sus playas llegó Colón; When to its beaches Columbus arrived,
exclamó lleno de admiración: he exclaimed, full of admiration,
"¡Oh!, ¡Oh!, ¡Oh!, esta es la linda “Oh! Oh! Oh! This is the beautiful
tierra que busco yo." land that I seek
Es Borinquen la hija, Borinquen is the daughter,
la hija del mar y el sol, the daughter of the sea and the sun,
del mar y el sol, of the sea and the sun,
del mar y el sol, of the sea and the sun,
del mar y el sol, of the sea and the sun,
del mar y el sol. of the sea and the sun.
Alvernaz Mulcahy: I "picked up" a piece of the National anthem of Puerto Rico sometime ago in my meanderings while performing and making $$ while in Spain I believe. At that time I had not visited Puerto Rico--I have more recently been there (about two years ago) and, as an aside, it has a gorgeous shoreline. So, I have my version of their song--for better or worse as they say. I am not really in a position to speak what might be the truth of the matter re: the song. I have played it and it has morphed into some hybrid over time.
Thanks for your interest in songs, poetry and poets as our discourse has unfolded.
Let's let the songs take flight on the wings of metaphor and the best of these days of transition that we call spring.
(Further interview with Gloria to come)
WHERE: The Mykonos Restaurant at 572 Adelaide St. North, London, Ontario. The restaurant has a large, enclosed terrace just behind the main restaurant, which comfortably holds 60 poetry lovers. Mediterranean food and drinks are available. The terrace is open to the parking lot behind. Overflow parking is available across the side street and in the large lot one block north, in front of Trad’s Furniture.
WHEN: Wednesday, May 4th, 2016. Doors: 5:30 to 6:30 (it's a restaurant.) Event begins at 7:00
THE FEATURE: Aboriginal poetry, stories, music, and other performances, followed by a Q&A. The feature will last for a full hour (vs our normal 20 minutes).
OPEN MIC: The normal poetry open mic section will be significantly shortened because of the lengthened feature that precedes it. Each poet has five minutes (which is about two good pages of poetry, but it should be timed at home). Sign up on the reader's list, which is on the book table at the back. It's first come, first served.
COVER: Pay What You Can (in jar on back table, or use Donate Button on website Donate Page). Your contributions are our only source of income to cover expenses.
RAFFLE PRIZES: Anyone who pays what cover they can at the event receives a ticket for a raffle prize, three of which will be picked after the intermission. The prizes consist of poetry books donated by The Ontario Poetry Society.