Saturday, 3 March 2012

"blue grouse wakens stars for us"

this is the way
strut after strut
the blue grouse wakens stars for us
and stroke after stroke
we pass through night’s constellations

from Pictograms From The Interior of B.C. 
poem-pictogram 33  (1975)  Fred Wah


"the blue grouse wakens stars for us" reminded me of a moment in 1990 or so, visiting my sister in the countryside of southern Manitoba, walking nearby: a family of ruffed grouse tumbling into the narrow sand road from the dense foliage on either side, mother supervisory and urchins more playful than that. i stood watching quietly, as i am prone to do, until they were done with the dust and scooted back through the grasses and branches.

i considered briefly how to translate the line into pictograms-- a line writ transcreating pictographs is really just begging to be translated back-- and so the top image, bird, is as far as i got. this is the word in Chinese pictograph terminology (old words).

considering the specificity of birds-- ptarmigan are the only grouse-relatives it seems who are circumpolar-- i found a traditional Salish word for "blue grouse" spoken in regalia & dance: Blue Grouse Dance (second image). More literally (old/contemporary word):

blue grouse      qáçqçàeÛ, qá – grouse; blue grouse
the pictured dancers were gathered in Prince Rupert for celebration, far north of the specific old writings/"sturgeon scribbles" location

33. Site No. 65 - Panel b/Cayuse Creek/Interior Salish (Lakes)*

then follows an image of blue grouse and two of ruffed grouse (the bird of the word and the bird of my mindseye~memory evoked)
 säisäs – ruffed grouse; domestic chicken
then maps of same, noting permanence, brooding, transience, absence of information, even vagrancy

below is a lovely synthesis of poetry and image by Joseph Ku of NZ, incorporating the pictogram "fly" with a poem by his mother, and several alphabets/scripts, all forms of synthesizing beauty

Joseph Ku

On a recent visit to the west coast, artist Peter Clair mentioned that the Mi'kmaq word for "petroglyph" is most simply translated as "sturgeon scribblings"— the marks left on the bottom of the river or stream as the fish go about their business.


Blue Grouse Dance, Gitmaxmak'ay Nisga'a Dancers in Prince Rupert, Hoobiyee 2010

Extracts from Selish Dictionary_online.pdf by Tachini Pete, pages 51 & 85
Seliñ Translation English to Salish Dictionary, Pre-Press Draft 3.4 – December 1, 2006

Blue Grouse Blue Grouse (1280x853) by asorum 

Ruffed Grouse (photo © Krista & Bob Brown)

Fred Wah, Pictograms from the Interior of B.C., Talonbooks, 1975 (p33)
*pictograph notation as originally published by John Corner in his book, Pictographs (Indian Rock Paintings) in the Interior of British Columbia (Vernon, 1968)

For more about Fred, 

For archival excerpts of 1979 translated project,

Some recent discussion/response to Fred's original project on this blog:

Chris Arnett abstract for recent discussion re-pictographs of BC:

Maps by Terry Sohl, sources:

Joseph Ku, NZ, from the second of his six part presentation, "Graphic Design as Visual Art" on Kudesign blog,  Follow the link below to see detail & read discussion of this work:

Peter Clair spoke of this in a conversation at Kogawa House, Vancouver BC. If i messed it up, blame me, not him.

See "prairie chicken" for a few more related thought-images 


gary barwin said...

for Joanne

the chicken horizon
past sight

night and scattered stars

shopping mall
gravel pit

the mind feathers

time so far away
it never arrives


Thanks for the post. A lovely circumlocumulation of thoughts and images related to Fred's original. Poems which I'm alway glad to be reminded of. And they're really great forms for remembering how texts and points-of-view are located in specific world-views, image-sets, physical and cultural realities. So: made this little Pictogram-Inspired (or more like, local underpass graffiti) poem for you this morning, thinking about the blue grouse, and the chickens.

Joanne Arnott said...

thanks for the poem, gary

i tend to see time + culture as some oceanic place i'm bobbing about in, trying to distinguish one stream from another,
eddying about in the confluence

while i'm getting used to it, i'm still not entirely sure i can breathe it without some sort of special equipment
which is why i am so fond of roots, specifics +
pragmatics, tangibles
get caught up in watching the worldflows
continuities, consistencies
and how one thing morphs into another

where i live is a tiny island in a high density people region, mountains rising visibly around and water everywhere
the birds come and go
the clouds actively co-create each day
city surrounded and interpenetrated with water

famous for the fullness of malls, this town, yet for years
the bulbs have all been out
on the last two letters of the big "Sears" sign
people reminded of where we are once
the sunsets,
the big mall prominently displays this reminder:


the mind feathers,

gary barwin said...


Something like: Sea longa RS brevis.

I like the idea of oceanic culture/time. A primeval, coeval semantic soup. There are waves, shores, currents, depths, thousand-mile whale songs and strange translucent jellyfish like some kind of futuristic TV screens floating around.