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Deciphering the “mi’kmaq book of the dead”

By Don Share

vispo_and.jpg
Although it’s not essential to this visual poem or an appreciation of it, mIEKAL aND has produced a translation of what you see above; it begins like this…


take from me / the great beliefs / because / it is written / they gathered together / again / so you taught us / to have a long life / some things / are beyond / the time is here / from the moment / be like / them
According to Geof Huth, who curated the special feature on visual poetry, curated by Geof Huth, in the November issue of Poetry, “aND often incorporates alien scripts into his work. These can be undecipherable writing systems of history, scripts unfamiliar to most people, and scripts invented by him or others. He uses these to allow us to see written language with new eyes, to appreciate its visual forms, and to face the process of searching for meaning in a foreign textscape. His “mi’kmaq book of the dead” combines seemingly recognizable characters with apparently pictographic ones, encouraging us to pick out a meaning we will never quite find on our own.”
So… would anyone like to let us know what they imagine the rest of the poem to mean?

Comments (11)

  • On November 11, 2008 at 4:57 pm Adrian C. Louis wrote:

    Now it comes to light, the ancient Mikmaqs were into flarf…

  • On November 11, 2008 at 10:07 pm Steve wrote:

    Pound used to claim that a reader sufficiently adept both in poetics and in visual perception could figure out the meanings of Chinese characters just by looking– I think he said Gaudier-Brzeska could do that, though I can’t pull a quotation nor a citation.
    It wasn’t true. I’d love to see somebody come up with readings for the rest of aND’s visual poem, and to see somebody else say, not “It could be” but “Of course that’s what it is.” But I’m not holding my breath.
    Anyone else around here enjoy cryptic crosswords?

  • On November 12, 2008 at 9:04 am Don Share wrote:

    Well, as Geof points out, the idea, such as it is, is for “us to pick out a meaning we will never quite find on our own.” Speaking of cryptic!

  • On November 12, 2008 at 9:12 am Doodle wrote:

    Tales from the Crypt[ic]!

  • On November 12, 2008 at 3:13 pm Kent Johnson wrote:

    The image above, though simplistic in comparison, is reminiscent of the ideogrammatic work of the great–and little known here–Uruguayan artist Joaquin Torres Garcia. A poet’s painter, if there ever was one:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joaquin_Torres_Garcia
    Kent

  • On November 12, 2008 at 4:53 pm john wrote:

    $#@&* #)*@%^ !!!

  • On November 12, 2008 at 6:14 pm nico vassilakis wrote:

    for added clarity of mIEKAL’s piece – this link may be useful.
    http://xexoxial.org/pdf/mikmaq_book_of_the_dead.pdf

  • On November 12, 2008 at 10:53 pm mIEKAL aND wrote:

    this is from a note I posted to the SPIDERTANGLE email list. SPIDERTANGLE is an email list devoted to networking & expanding the reaches of concrete & visual poetry.
    “The typography which I cloned is from an Italian typemaker circa 1860s translating a missionary’s handwritten notes of a pictographic language that was already in use by the Mi’kmaqs. So the typographer was taking existing type & refashioning the letter parts to approximate what originally began as glyphs painted on boards & rocks with ochre. Then this was used to print up a version of the Gospels to save the poor godless heathens in Canada & northern New England. My guess is this version of the language never achieved much circulation.”

  • On November 13, 2008 at 4:28 pm pliner wrote:

    I`m like cryptic style so match. In life, in dress, in my flat

  • On November 14, 2008 at 10:10 am david-baptiste chirot wrote:

    All these things make one very sad and and the only way to lift the hurt running through one’s veins is to make writings that never can be taken away again.
    Translations of translations of translations of the breaths of ghosts–the signs of elsewheres ghost signed–
    the spirit returns to gather the unsigned the unwritten the unheard and the unnamed
    and depart unnoticed–
    I like mIEKAL’s work and am not criticizing him personally at all, for his work is in a tradition of these alternative forms of translations, via visual poetry–
    what i see at times is this–
    the dead see scrawls—
    from the other side of things, to see–
    when i was little i learned of the relatives loaded on the trains in the freezing nights and given the infected blankets–when the doors of the box cars were opened some place else, out would fall “the only good Indians, the dead ones”–except the few like my greatgrandmother and two younger relatives who hid among the dead and survived-
    the french-indians in quebec that the english came and at gunpoint made them leave–to walk pulling the cart with all they were allowed to take and the littler of 15 children–and walk 1800 miles to illinois–
    what mangled bits and shards of killed off, banned and three and four times distranslated languages, erased, displaced, misplaced–flow through the blood and ring in the ears–scar the eyes–and in the mouth learn to be quiet–
    a kind of debris person moving among debris and debris languages–
    and heaps of debris,too—heaps and heaps of debris!–
    not to seek but to find–
    hidden in plain site/sight/cite–
    this that is, that cannot be taken away–
    “the M’ikmaq Book of the Dead”–
    it is when books came that there were the dead–
    the texts of that other world, with letters like microbes eating away everything in its path–
    in the United States is erased not only Indian but also the French-Indian histories–
    A M’ikmaq writer of today was the late Michael Dorris–whose personal and written work with fetal alcohol syndrome children will ever have a great and lasting effect on many lives.
    I remember long ago after midnight in the light of a very full moon sitting on the open back of a pick up truck with him and my Mohawk wife, and an Apache teenager literally howling at the moon. The spring air was sharp, chilly and wet. Drops of moonlit water clung to the twigs of bare black.branches
    from:
    Edward C. Gray, Norman Fiering, eds. The Language Encounter in the Americas, 1492-1800. New York and Oxford: Berghahn Books, 2000. x + 342 pp. $49.95 (cloth), ISBN 978-1-57181-160-8.
    Reviewed by Galen Brokaw
    In “The M’ikmaq Hieroglyphic Prayer Book: Writing and Christianity in Maritime Canada, 1675-1921,” Bruce Greenfield traces the use of literacy in the history of European evangelization among the M’ikmaq Indians. The French catholic missionaries originally emphasized the rote memorization of prayers, hoping for an understanding over time. As an aide in this memorization, they introduced a hieroglyphic prayer book that the M’ikmaq adopted and preserved for 250 years even during extended periods with no European presence or supervision. Greenfield points out that the French use of this hieroglyphic script represents an attempt to control the dissemination of knowledge that is analogous to the situation in France as well. The ease with which the Indians adopted and preserved this script, along with other evidence, attests to the pre-existence of a hieroglyphic system of representation that the M’ikmaq were able to adapt conceptually to the new context of European religion. Greenfield argues that the preservation of this tradition along side alphabetic literacy introduced later by English Baptist missionaries reveals the ideological nature of literacy practice and demands an approach that considers the hieroglyphic prayer book as an artifact with symbolic properties used in specific social contexts.

  • On March 10, 2009 at 12:26 pm Frank Jr Molley wrote:

    Migmag heiroglyphics are part of a much larger body of writing that I refer to as Algonquin sybolism. I am a Migmaq and from what I have learned about our written language is that it is part of the Algonquin family tree of writings, these can be further learned about by visiting and learning from the Medewin people. Who during our past were sent West by the Migmaq with bundles containing our language, song, ceremonies and the like similar to that of what we’d call a time capsule. They did this to avoid erradication of the culture and traditions and have been told that one day the teachings will return to the people of the Eastern door. This is occuring to this day as many Medewin elders are sharing their teachings with our people, with all people. One more thing, these writings, in my opinion were the first ancient writing and they pre-date Aztec writings by 1000 years. The writings you see here are missionary influenced, their full meanings and original designs have been altered to accompany ease of use for other missionaries during the 1600’s to convert the Migmaq into Christains. The earliest of which was in 1609 by missionary Father Pacific who traveled in the winter of that year from what is now Gaspe’, Quebec to Listuguj or Resitigouche, Quebec where he met with the Migmaq where Atholville, New Brunswick now stands. There he learned of this written system from a boy writing on large leaves. This is where the influence and changes to the system began. From what I have learned there is no official book of the dead and until further evidence the author here is assuming this work to be similar to the Tibetan book of the dead. The Migmaq rarely used books for that sort of thing, as they have their ceremonies and traditions regarding the passing of the living and the inherent relationship with the Spirit world.


Posted in Uncategorized on Tuesday, November 11th, 2008 by Don Share.