Poetry is Not a Luxury April 2017 Natalie Diaz, When My Brother was an Aztec
NATALIE DIAZ’s poetry is raw, rhythmic, and tender. The New York Times called her debut, When My Brother Was an Aztec (2012), an “ambitious… beautiful book.” Pima and Mojave, and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian community, Diaz was born and raised in the Fort Mojave Indian Village in Needles, California. She earned her BA from Old Dominion University, where she received a full athletic scholarship and majored in English and Women’s Studies. She went on to play basketball professionally in Europe and Asia before returning to Old Dominion to earn an MFA in Creative Writing.
Poems from the Collection
My Brother at 3 a.m.
Abecedarian Requiring Further Examination of Anglikan Seraphym Subjugation of a Wild Indian Rezervation
No More Cake Here
My Brother My Wound
Natalie Diaz reading selections from the book
Adrian Matejka on the work of Natalie Diaz
It's tempting to get caught up in the biographical elements of Natalie Diaz's writing. The poems, as well as her author bio and interviews, invite the reader to draw direct connections between her varied identities—Mojave, a former pro-basketball player, an MFA-holder, and an archivist of Indigenous languages—and those of the speaker in her first collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec. Diaz has done so many different kinds of things that her stories have stories, but what she does on the page is much more dexterous and surprising than confessionalism or any of its variant offshoots. When My Brother Was an Aztec is a spacious, sophisticated collection, one that puts in work addressing the author's divergent experiences—whether it be family, skin politics, hoops, code switching, or government commodities.
From a review in The Rumpus
Fortunately for us, the poems in Diaz’s commanding debut poetry collection, When My Brother Was an Aztec, don’t rely on the angels. They embrace what Lorca called the duende: the kind of force and struggle that—unlike the angel and the muse— “surges up, inside, from the soles of the feet.” They aren’t the kind of perfect, crystalline poems that seem to have fallen from the heavens. These are rangy, muscled works that have both a dancer’s grace and a mechanic’s oil-stained hands.
Interviews with Natalie Diaz
The Poetry Foundation
ND: Sometimes people are overwhelmed by the violence in my poems. I guess, when we see someone’s heart ripped out, we tend to look away—we question why we had to see it. I do not deny that violence, not in real life or in my work. I cannot unsee what I’ve seen. But I hope my poems also remind people of the humanity that exists in the midst of it.
ND: The body is urgent. The neuropathy in my mother’s feet, the press of my lover’s hips, the ache in my jaw after my root canal this morning, the flinch in my student’s mouth when he said his grandmother passed. The urgency is that we are all connected. Our desires to survive. The urgency is that we are all of the same energy, connected. There is a light in me that is a light in you that is the light in a deer or a jaguar—the energy of life. The beautiful urgency of light, like a thread tethered around all of our wrists, making us touch one another, hit one another, beckon one another.
PBS Newshour conversation with Natalie Diaz on video (4+ minutes)
Natalie Diaz on the physicality of writing
I believe I came to poetry from around the corner. From a cul-de-sac really. On a rez far from where poetry ever visited. The cavalry visited. The ARMY. The railroad. They all visited. Not poetry.
Maybe what I mean is that I need the rigor and radicalism of friendship to be a poet, to be anything, really. I have found those friendships in poetry, but I found them by letting poetry be a small part of them. Language is why I am at poetry. Anger is why I am at poetry. Architecture is why I am at poetry. Haptics is why I am at poetry. My brother is why I am at poetry. The field or cave beyond myself where I go when I touch my lover is why I am at poetry.
Poetry is a thing I do with the love and chaos I feel for my beloveds and this land and the energy in every living being. It is a room to enter. There are a thousands ways to enter that room. I want to try them all.