Fuse #8

Friday, February 16, 2007

Poetry Friday: Louise Erdrich Learning Ojibiwemowin

We're trying something all new here at Fuse #8. In the past I've not paid particular attention to Poetry Friday. I have no poetic gifts. My knowledge is low and I am easy to distract when anyone waves shiny objects in front of my face. What would be perfect would be if someone could supply me with a steady stream of really well-written poems that I could place on this blog once a week and that nobody else could possibly provide.

Prayers, as they say, have been answered. Now, the last thing you are going to want to hear is that someone's mom is a poet. As my mother pointed out, "everyone's mom is a poet." Point taken. My mother is, however, a published poet. And she's damn good. So I'm basically tapping my own family's resources here. And the first of these is going to include sometime children's author Louise Erdrich. How's THAT for a connection? Eh? Eh?

In terms of the following piece, "Louise Erdrich Learning Ojibiwemowin", poet Susan Ramsey writes the following:

"This one ran in Rhino. The NYT ran a column of Writers on Writing a while back, and Louise Erdrich wrote about the difficulties of learning Ojibiwemowin, saying she wanted to get the jokes. It was full of fascinating bits I kept wanting to go back to, and a pantoum is a form where the second and fourth lines of the first stanza become the 1st and 3rd of the next, the new 2nd and 4th becoming the next 1st and 3rd and so on. There's no length limit, and you're allowed to change the lines a bit, but it ends by, as usual, bringing down lines 2 and 4 to be lines 1 and 3 -- and going up to the unused 2 and 4 from the first stanza as the final 2 and 4. More fun than crossword puzzles, when it works."

Please know that due to the limitations of Blogger, I can't indent these lines where they were originally indented. My apologies.

Louise Erdrich Learning Ojibiwemowin

Two thirds of Ojibiwemowin is verbs

and nouns aren’t male and female, they’re living or dead.

(She’s learning the language so she’ll get the jokes.)

The word for stone, asin, is animate.

If nouns aren’t male and female, but living or dead,

what you think you know begins to shift.

Their word for stone, asin, is animate

and that universe came from a conversation of stones.

Of course what you know will have to shift

since every language has its limitations.

What’s geology but a conversation of stones?

and even we know flint does speak to steel.

But every language has its limitations:

French doesn’t really have a word for warm,

flint will only speak its sparks to steel,

there’s no word for privacy in Chinese.

French has only tiede, which means lukewarm.

Can you have a concept without the word?

Certainly there’s no privacy in China.

So English added chutzpah, macho, chic,

until we grasped the concept, owned the word

by borrowing it so long it felt like ours,

which takes chutzpah. Macho is learned, and chic

can’t be taught, but both take a straight face --

borrow one until it feels like yours.

It’s useful, too, for poker, tango, jokes,

all teachable skills improved by a straight face,

by knowing what will concentrate your power.

What improves your poem, tango, jokes --

she’s learning the language so she’ll get the jokes --

is knowing what will concentrate your power:

two thirds of Ojibewemowin is verbs.

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At 2:39 AM , Blogger Saipan Writer said...


and Wow again.

At 9:05 AM , Blogger Mary Lee said...

Yeah. Everyone's mom isn't THAT kind of poet! Wow! (seems to be the theme of the responses so far)

At 3:22 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

Welcome to Poetry Friday. I love this pantoum. There is a great one in the Butterfly Eyes and Other Secrets of the Meadow, the new CYBILS Award.

At 1:06 AM , Blogger Greg Pincus said...

One of the things we Cybils poetry judges all agreed on immediately was that there was a kick-ass pantoum in Butterfly Eyes. It's a form that has driven me to tears in the dark, distant past, so I gotta tip my hat here once again. (then, of course... damn moms, always raising the bar. Sigh. What do they want from us anyway??????)


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