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Kimberly Blaeser & Margaret Noodin

For this poem we each approached revision a bit differently. Kim added more literal and metaphoric meaning with revisions while Margaret was often more concerned with rhythm and alliteration across languages. We entered into discussions about these elements but granted one another leeway to make changes until we both felt satisfied that the poem achieved its reach.

We worked together to understand the best way forward, sometimes taking time to talk about the process before completing a revision, but, in the end, the poem felt finished when it stopped echoing across our different ways of speaking about a shared idea. When the poem subtly reenters the spiral of meaning, having advanced its arc, it seems both to close and reopen in a way that feels complete.

We were working toward a single poem that did not translate language per se, but wove ideas across languages. This bilingual code-switching arose from a desire to inflect the poem with cultural understanding of an “other” that can add perspective or expertise originating out of Indigenous knowledge systems and practices (IKSP). Specifically, this poem gestures toward an awareness of our deeply intertwined realities (aka intergenerational rootedness) as a different place from which to view climate change. Using both languages and our different capacities in each, we created a stronger structure than either one of us might have created in using just one language. We are able to attend to the many intersections of the poetic sounds and meanings. Sometimes Kim saw to the metaphoric elements of the images while Margaret attended to the chains of morphemes tumbling together and echoing across our lines. Sometimes we built off of one another’s introduction of new elements into the poem.

If play is a way to stretch the imagination and take great satisfaction from a team effort, then this was certainly what we did. Although it is not easy, writing together always feels like one of the best and most rewarding challenges. We surprise one another when we add a turn to the poem and it may take one or the other of us some mulling to understand that movement and its potential before we are able to reenter the process. And this is where the poem often truly takes off—when we each leave our “expected” ideas or methods and begin an untethered language journey.

We definitely work differently in a solo setting because Margaret can write a poem entirely in Anishinaabemowin and change it many times before arriving at a final piece which is then translated. One of the lovely things that happens when working in two languages from the start is that the words themselves get to know one another as equals, each shaping the poem in different ways. Likewise, our collaboration is built in layers of thought, and both are explored equally as we write. Even when write alone in the present we never feel we are writing solo because there is a history each of us represents, a language honed over centuries that Margaret preserves through active use, and if done well, there may be readers in the future whose imagined presence alters the poem as we write.

Like Margaret, Kim never feels entirely in charge of her writing, even when writing solo. Language, culture, spirit, or whatever muse we acknowledge (or allow) always feeds us and leads us in a direction we hadn’t anticipated. Kim often tries to intensify this element of the process by putting a poem aside and coming back to it later. Most poets can relate to being surprised by what they may have written a month ago. Kim feels as if she is “collaborating” with that already present movement or voice in the poem. In collaboration, of course, this kind of weaving of voice, ideas, direction, etc. is intense. With this particular poem, her attention in revision was partly on creating an entrance for the reader into the unfamiliar without compromising the necessary difference(s) of language and understanding.

*

This poem appeared in They Said: A Multi-Genre Anthology of Contemporary Collaborative Writing.

< draft > 

When waabooz stories spill into my dreams
and climate change photos cover the front page,
I wake afraid of snares.
My scarred fingers fold and unfold 
disasters making paper dolls for nindaanis
and daughters of daughters--
unmaking the worlds we may have borne

•••

Margaret: “Well . . .  I thought about this all week and played with ideas and here is what I’ve come up with. . . a weaving.”

When waabooz stories spill into my dreams
ziigwebinamaan your memory nookaag
and climate change photos cover the front page,
aanakwaadong you and I ayaayang then
I wake afraid of snares.

My scarred fingers fold and unfold 
mamaandaawanokiiyaan or
disasters making paper dolls for nindaanis
miinawaa
 my mother migoshkaadendang
and daughters of daughters--
unmaking the worlds we may have borne


Glossary (can this one just have a glossary?)

waabooz - rabbit
ziigwebinan – to spill something
nookaa – soft
aanakwaad – clouds
ayaa – to be
mamaandaawanokii – make miracles
nindaanis – my daughter
miinawaa – and
migoshkaadendan – to worry about something

•••

Kim:

For the poem, I moved things around in the second stanza and added a word (“newsprint”) because I wanted to convey that the speaker in the poem is making paper dolls from the newspaper stories mentioned in stanza one—ie: making paper dolls from the “disasters.” I liked your idea of miracles so pulled that in another way.  See if the tinkering I did in stanza two works.  I moved on from those stanzas to draft a third stanza and add a title. I look forward to seeing what you make of it! (I also added to the glossary.) So those are my weavings for now.

 

Tap Root

When waabooz stories spill into my dreams
ziigwebinamaan your memory nookaag
and climate change photos cover the front page,
aanakwaadong you and I ayaayang then
I wake afraid of snares.

My scarred fingers fold and unfold 
newsprint disasters making paper dolls for nindaanis
and daughters of daughters—
or dreaming mamaandaawanokiiyaan,
miinawaa my mother migoshkaadendang
unmaking the worlds we may have borne.

When we tire of stacking words,  
when mazina'iganan have forgotten
their origins, let us weave new stories:
aadizookaan rooted like ancient trees
in a tangle of unseen—ojiibik belonging.  

Glossary 

waabooz - rabbit
ziigwebinan – to spill something
nookaa – soft
aanakwaad – clouds
ayaa – to be
mamaandaawanokii – make miracles
nindaanis – my daughter
miinawaa – and
migoshkaadendan – to worry about something
mazina'iganan – books
aadizookaan – sacred story
ojiibik – root

•••

Margaret: I made some changes and think this might be closer. 

 

Tap Root

When waabooz stories spill into my wondering
ziigwebinamaan your memory nookaag
and climate change photos cover the front page,
aanakwaadong you and I then ayaayang 
awake suddenly afraid of snares.

My scarred fingers fold and unfold newsprint disasters 
making paper dolls for nindaanis and all daughters
dreaming mamaandaawanokiiyaan, 
miinawaa my mother migoshkaadendang
unmaking the worlds we may have borne.

When we tire of stacking words,  
when mazina'iganag have forgotten
their origins, let us weave new stories:
aadizookaan rooted like ancient trees
in a tangle of unseen—ojiibikbelonging.  

Glossary:

waabooz - rabbit
ziigwebinan – to spill something
nookaa – soft
aanakwaad – clouds
ayaa – to be
mamaandaawanokii – make miracles
nindaanis – my daughter
miinawaa – and
migoshkaadendan – to worry about something
mazina'iganag – books
aadizookaan – sacred story
ojiibik – root

•••

Kim: I especially like the change in stanza two, opening the possibility for the daughters to be dreaming miracles. I think “wondering” isn’t quit the word though for the first line. Maybe just “day.” That allows for the possibility that they come from dreams into the day, although that is unstated. That together with the second line, the soft spilling of memory, allows them the kind of reality that is more than just thought, if that makes sense.  

 

Tap Root

When waabooz stories spill into my day
ziigwebinamaan your memory nookaag
and climate change photos cover the front page,
aanakwaadong you and I then ayaayang 
awake suddenly afraid of snares.

My scarred fingers fold and unfold newsprint disasters 
making paper dolls for nindaanis and all daughters
dreaming mamaandaawanokiiyaan, 
miinawaa my mother migoshkaadendang
unmaking the worlds we may have borne.

When we tire of stacking words,  
when mazina'iganag have forgotten
their origins, let us weave new stories:
aadizookaan rooted like ancient trees
in a tangle of unseen—ojiibikbelonging.  

 

Glossary:

waabooz - rabbit
ziigwebinan – to spill something
nookaa – soft
aanakwaad – clouds
ayaa – to be
mamaandaawanokii – make miracles
nindaanis – my daughter
miinawaa – and
migoshkaadendan – to worry about something
mazina'iganag – books
aadizookaan – sacred story
ojiibik – root


< REVISION >

Tap Root

When waabooz stories spill into my day
ziigwebinamaan your memory nookaag
and climate change photos cover the front page,
aanakwaadong you and I then ayaayang 
awake suddenly afraid of snares.

My scarred fingers fold and unfold newsprint disasters 
making paper dolls for nindaanis and all daughters
dreaming mamaandaawanokiiyaan, 
miinawaa my mother migoshkaadendang
unmaking the worlds we may have borne.

When we tire of stacking words,  
when mazina'iganag have forgotten
their origins, let us weave new stories:
aadizookaan rooted like ancient trees
in a tangle of unseen—ojiibik belonging.  

 

Glossary:

waabooz - rabbit
ziigwebinan – to spill something
nookaa – soft
aanakwaad – clouds
ayaa – to be
mamaandaawanokii – make miracles
nindaanis – my daughter
miinawaa – and
migoshkaadendan – to worry about something
mazina'iganag – books
aadizookaan – sacred story
ojiibik – root