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What the Chickadee Knows

Poems in Anishinaabemowin and English by Margaret Noodin

Award Winner

Poetry, Indigenous Studies, Translation, Race and Ethnicity

Great Lakes Books Series

Published: September 2020
ISBN: 9780814347508
Pages: 96 Size: 5x8
Published: September 2020
ISBN: 9780814347515

Margaret Noodin explains in the preface of her new poetry collection, What the Chickadee Knows (Gijigijigaaneshiinh Gikendaan), "Whether we hear giji-giji-gaane-shii-shii or chick-a-dee-dee-dee depends on how we have been taught to listen. Our world is shaped by the sounds around us and the filter we use to turn thoughts into words. The lines and images here were conceived first in Anishinaabemowin and then in English. They are an attempt to hear and describe the world according to an Anishinaabe paradigm." The book is concerned with nature, history, tradition, and relationships, and these poems illuminate the vital place of the author’s tribe both in the past and within the contemporary world.

What the Chickadee Knows is a gesture toward a future that includes Anishinaabemowin and other indigenous languages seeing growth and revitalization. This bilingual collection includes Anishinaabemowin and English, with the poems mirroring one another on facing pages. In the first part, "What We Notice" (E-Maaminonendamang), Noodin introduces a series of seasonal poems that invoke Anishinaabe science and philosophy. The second part, "History" (Gaa Ezhiwebag), offers nuanced contemporary views of Anishinaabe history. The poems build in urgency, from observations of the natural world and human connection to poems centered in powerful grief and remembrance for events spanning from the Sandy Lake Tragedy of 1850, which resulted in the deaths of more than four hundred Ojibwe people, to the Standing Rock water crisis of 2016, which resulted in the prosecution of Native protesters and, ultimately, the completion of the Dakota Access Pipeline on sacred land.

The intent of What the Chickadee Knows is to create a record of the contemporary Anishinaabe worldview as it is situated between the traditions of the past and as it contributes to the innovation needed for survival into the future. Readers of poetry with an interest in world languages and indigenous voices will need this book.

Margaret Noodin is professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee, where she also serves as the associate dean of the Humanities and director of the Electa Quinney Institute for American Indian Education. She is the author of Bawaajimo: A Dialect of Dreams in Anishinaabe Language and Literature and Weweni (Wayne State University Press, 2015), a collection of bilingual poems in Anishinaabemowin and English.

‘Recognize yourselves in shared water,’ writes Margaret Noodin in ‘Apenimonodan’ (‘Trust’) as the poems of What the Chickadee Knows open into an Anishinaabemowin world, asking us to listen, to be present in ‘what we notice.’ What I notice—what I delight in—is the music of poetry—visual and aural—how the sheer sound of words and each poem’s visual lyricism creates meaning enough for connection. Poetry is music; poetry is the spirit of the senses sounded into life by breath. With these generous and rapt poems, written in Anishinaabemowin and translated by the author herself into English, Noodin gives us an extraordinary gift: an invitation into the illumination of language.

– Jennifer Elise Foerster

With careful attention to rhythm and sound, What the Chickadee Knows reveals the wonderfully unexpected connections between Anishinaabemowin and English. Weaving together not only different languages but different landscapes and histories, this collection of evocative and minutely observed poems celebrates the vast web of relations that sustains us all.

– Adam Spry (White Earth Anishinaabe), assistant professor of writing, literature, and publishing, Emerson College

Through nuanced connections, Margaret Noodin’s poems partake in important Anishinaabeg world-making. Here observations of season and place always include human interaction: snowshoes ‘writing canoe shapes in bright snow,’ jam-makers ‘mixing wind and shining water.’ This collection—a primer on how to locate ourselves ‘in the center of the blessed’—nevertheless assesses damage caused by America’s exclusionary history, becomes ‘a sneak-up dance of survival.’

– Kimberly Blaeser, author of Copper Yearning and Wisconsin poet laureate 2015–16

Would it be strange for me, strange of me, to tell you not to read but listen to these poems? There is so much silence and near silence within and between the words, the lines, the pages of this book. These poems, shaped of many languages, quieted me, and reminded me to listen—that listening requires my own quiet. So, as in any walk anywhere upon the earth, beneath the sky—or through this book—my quiet lead me to Noodin’s deep silence, carried me to every important thing there was and is to hear.

– Mark Turcotte, author of Exploding Chippewas

The poems here beautifully center Anishinaabe philosophy and language as a future, not just a past. They are also a joy to read.

– Sarah Neilson, Literary Hub

an exquisite bilingual journey of languages and observations "situated between the traditions of the past … and the innovation needed for survival into the future."

– Naomi Shihab Nye, The New York Times Magazine

It's a literary gift to suddenly find profound inspiration. Finding that it comes from a local author makes it rare. Margaret Noodin is a professor of English and American Indian studies at UW-Milwaukee. She earned two degrees from Minnesota schools, and it’s where she learned the language of the poems in What the Chickadee Knows. They’re conceived and written in Anishinaabemowin, side by side with her English translations. It’s "the language of the Odawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe people centered in the Great Lakes region." I don’t know the language, but the words are visually thrilling. I can begin to imagine their lovely sounds, and I love seeing the continuation of First Nations languages. Their descriptions of the land and life, time and loss, sorrow and celebration have the feel of a natural world we all long for. They're simply stated, and beautifully complex. They speak of love, while also confronting the tragedy of our history. This is one of the most precious book discoveries I've had, and it's very exciting to know that Margaret teaches up the street from Boswell!

– Tim McCarthy, Boswell Book Company, Milwaukee, WI

I think "Gimaazinibii’amoon (A Message to You)" is inviting us to pay attention to the tenderness of the words that are there and, also, to allow the mystery of the fact that we are sometimes unknowable to ourselves and to each other; to exist in the way that we continue to live with messages and communications that go on, even after a person is gone from our life.

– Pádraig Ó Tuama, On Being Poetry Unbound

There are many moments of beauty and insight to encounter.

– Jon M. Sweeney, Spirituality and Practice

Finding such profound inspiration is a literary gift and it warms my heart to know that her daughter did the cover art.

– The Boswellians: Blog for Boswell Book Company

  • 2020 Foreword INDIES Book Awards - Result: finalist in the category of Poetry