“What is a wall if not a thing to be pressed against?
What is a bedroom if not an epicenter
of pillage? And what can I do with a hundred houses
but abandon them as spent shells of desire?”
“Toward the Amaranth Gates of War or Love,” Natalie Diaz
NATALIE DIAZ, author of the book “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” held a poetry reading in the Council Chamber on Feb. 7, 2019.
A great deal of the poems in her first book “When My Brother Was an Aztec” are about her meth-addicted brother and her family’s struggles navigating life on a reservation. She tells heart-wrenching and powerful stories of her life and the lives of her loved ones on the reservation through beautifully crafted lines. Her poetry further incorporates interesting twists reflecting Diaz’s personal interests, such as mythology and etymology. I would describe her poetic voice as unique and groundbreaking.
Diaz is Mojave, as well as an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe. According to her website, she is a 2018 MacArthur Foundation Fellow, a Lannan Literary Fellow and a Native Arts Council Foundation Artist Fellow. She has also received multiple awards for her writing, including a Bread Loaf Fellowship, the Holmes National Poetry Prize, a Hodder Fellowship, a PEN/Civitella Ranieri Foundation Residency and a US Artists Ford Fellowship.
At the reading she recited multiple poems from her book, including “My Brother at 3 A.M.” and “I Watch Her Eat the Apple,” as well as other poems, some of which will be published in her upcoming book, “Postcolonial Love Poem.” Alongside her poetry, she discussed her writing process with the audience.
She elaborated on a number of thematic recurrences in her writing during the reading, one of which is the blurred lines between affection and pain. Nearly every one of Diaz’s poems resonates with this theme.
“I think about the simultaneity of violence and tenderness, they’re both there at the same time,” Diaz said.
She also explained her experience writing about painful memories associated with her family. The book functioned as an outlet to process these hardships; she had to give herself permission to write about her pain. But writing about family is extremely hard, and she uses what she referred to as “double imagination” in order for her audience to believe her story. In doing so, she greatly relies on creating imagery.
“I tend to hide in the image,” Diaz said. “Image knows a lot more about how I feel than I do.”
Diaz also discussed the role she serves as a Native American, Latina and queer poet. In relation to her audience, her main aim is not to translate her culture to people from different backgrounds. Instead, she wants to be seen by other indigenous, Latinx and queer people, so they can realize they have important stories to share just like her.
“Postcolonial Love Poem” will be published in 2020. I would recommend everyone read her work, as Diaz transformed my perception of what poetry could embody. Her writing is truly eye-opening, and is guaranteed to take your breath away.