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“Maybe, it’s like a prayer in that regard”—An Interview with Natalie Diaz.
Patricia Caspers, over at the Ploughshares blog, conducted this interview with Natalie Diaz.
Caspers writes this introduction, which launches into the first question:
I happened to read Natalie Diaz’s book When My Brother Was an Aztec (Copper Canyon Press, 2012) on July Fourth, and it was a surreal experience. I live on small lake in Massachusetts, and as the neighbors blasted the sky with exploding light I wondered about the Wampanoags who lived here before us, what happened to them, so I looked it up. It’s ugly, of course. I’m not here to patronize you with a history lecture about the brutality of manifest destiny in action, though, and neither is Diaz.
Instead, When My Brother Was an Aztec offers a portrait of life on the Mojave reservation today, and it’s bright with color, coral and turquoise, the red of apples, and every kind of hunger. She shows us cans of government food, handed-down clothes, alcoholism, drug addiction, and lost limbs— the place where history has brought us.
PC: I read the title poem as a metaphor for the rest of the book. Talk about what the Aztecs represent to you.
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.
Some Aztec practices can be interpreted as violent, but that doesn’t mean they were less human. They wrestled fear, absence, and loss like the rest of us. They held each other tenderly and made love. They were not monsters, just lived in a world different from ours. Violence is painful, but it is also a beautiful and functioning part of our lives. It has to be. We don’t stop at violence—at least not in the world I live in—we begin over and over again out of it. This is one reason why the rituals and beliefs of the Aztecs lure me—they made light from violence, or found light despite violence, which doesn’t happen if you close your eyes.
A little later, a question on genre:
PC: Have you considered writing a memoir? Why did you choose poetry as your genre?
ND: I know the definition of memoir is fluid, but at thirty-three, what do I know about anything? Maybe only that this world is one I sometimes cannot face in the morning. It will not stop conquering me. It has me by the throat most mornings, by the horns most nights. Poetry is where I come to because it doesn’t require me to have answers—poetry is the question. Maybe, it’s like a prayer in that regard.
Full interview here.