ch’ik ch’ik ch’ik

Humberto Ak’abal
a K’iche’ Maya poet from Momostenango, Guatemala
ecopoetics volume 2

Encountering K’iche’

Reading the first poem, I thought “bird noises” because of the repetition. Although I’ve never thought of it this way, birds repeat themselves. And K’iche’ is onomatopoeic, so the words of the poem remind me of bird noises.

The next set of little poems, translated into English, confirm that the B’uqpurix, ch’ik, and chowix are birds.

Ch’ik is its song,
ch’ik is its name.

The chowix seems particularly elegant and composed, admiring its reflection and drinking its own song.

K’iche’ is an agglutinative language – building words out of pieces, with the result that one word can be a whole sentence.

The poet is close to birds, stones, fireflies. The poems are little blinking mythology machines.

K’iche’ is a verb-initial language like most Mayan languages. Word order is VOS (verb – object – subject). This verb-initial structure must arise from active, imperative ways of life.

This is the language of the Popul Vuh, book of multiple creations.

Returning to the notion that Gary Snyder’s poems avoid metaphor: this poetry doesn’t do metaphor, metaphor seems extraneous. Or possibly the poems themselves are metaphors, complete representations. Is metaphor as practiced familiarly a rather sneaky deal, a shell game?

  • A bio of Humbert Ak’abal, including the intriguing comment:
  • Ak’abal did not heed his grandfather’s warning not to touch any books (‘Books can make you lose your mind’), becoming a poet instead.

  • A book available to preview online: Drum of Stone. Translations of Humberto Ak’abal’s poems into English and Scots!
  • A video of Humberto reciting a poem, eyes closed when speaking K’iche’ and open when speaking Spanish.

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