Audio

Natalie Diaz vs. the Lexicon

September 5, 2017

Danez Smith: She’s the star of the upcoming film “Crouching White Man, Hidden Racist,” Franny Choi. 

Franny Choi: And they’re the 90s music video dance break that goes on just a little bit too long, Danez Smith. 

Danez Smith: You're listening to VS The Podcast, where poets confront the ideas that move them. 

Franny Choi: Presented by the Poetry Foundation and Postloudness.

Danez Smith: (WHISPERING) Post...

Franny Choi: (SINGING) ...loudness! 

Danez Smith: (WHISPERING) Poetry...

Franny Choi: (SINGING) ...Foundation (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) How you doing, Franny!

Franny Choi: I’m doing good, how are you?

Danez Smith: I’m doing alriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiight in my body and my soul. 

Franny Choi: How is it how is it being back home in Minneapolis?

Danez Smith: You know, it's good because now it's summertime which is my favorite season to be back home. Because all we do all day everyday—when I'm at my family's house—is sit on the porch. You know, like, if you go over to my grandmama's house you're going to find some people on the porch in the summer.

Franny Choi: Aaah, it must be so nice to be with your family. 

Danez Smith: It is! And it's like bringing up a lot of memories, you know, like, I think about all the things that have, like, transpired on said porch, like, this one time my cousins were visiting from Omaha. And one of my cousins was talking about how she was having conjugal visits with a man, right. 

Franny Choi: Dit she really say “conjugal visits”?

Danez Smith: Conjugal visits! She was saying, she was using the term, she is, you know, like, yeah, I go for conjugal visits all the time. 

Franny Choi: Uh-huh.

Danez Smith: And everybody’s, like, how are the conjugal visits? Oh, I love ‘em, you know, they’re great, d-d-d-d-deh. And my grandpa pipes up, God rest his soul, and he says, ooh, you know, I loved them conjugal visits. And we all said, huh? Grandpa? You like conjugal visits? Please tell us more about these conjugal visits you enjoy. And he’s like, yeah you go to Taco Belll to do with the cheese between the tortillas and stuff like that, and what we realized was, he thought a conjugal visit was a quesadilla. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) I just don't understand! 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) I don’t understand either, but... 

Franny Choi: What!? 

Danez Smith: ...to this day, I love me a cheesy conjugal visit. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: My goodness!

Danez Smith: And you know what you ain’t gonna do is go tell my granddaddy that his language was wrong. 

Franny Choi: That’s absolutely true.

Danez Smith: Because that's what he called it.

Franny Choi: My dad a while ago was, like, there are all these, like, American idioms and, like, I'm going to make my own idiom. 

Danez Smith: Okay. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: He’s a Korean man. 

Danez Smith: Yep.

Franny Choi: And one of the things he came up with was “body up,” which just means “stand up.” Like, hey Franny, body up! But I like it as, like, an imperative to be, like, as, like, a man up thing but, like, it's like a gender neutral man up. It's just body up. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: You know? 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: And the other one he came up with was “meat me.” 

Danez Smith: Meat me? -e-a-t? (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Yeah! I would like a helping of meat, please, but just “meat me.” I love my dad’s idioms! I mean I think the ways that our families, like, invent and reinvent language is, like, incredible, actually. Especially when you come from a family or from a people who have, for some reason or another, been not allowed access to certain kinds of English or certain kinds of language. 

Danez Smith: Or any kind of language, you know, you think about the importance of, like, holding on to your tongue whether that tongue be a particular tongue of English, the black vernacular case, or whatever language is coming from home, right. And so, like, you are simultaneously, like, holding onto language, like, inventing new language, like, you are just, like, a filter and a vessel for language to move through. 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: Which is beautiful. And that language is also how we hold each other, you know?

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: I don't want to lose the way we talk. 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: I love how I'm held in my people's mouths, and that is important. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. I mean, I think there's there's a thing that our friend Fati, who we interviewed in our third episode, something that she said that was basically, like, everyone in my family is a poet. Like, they're all working with language and reinventing it. When we think about the vocabulary, the lexicon that we have inherited from our people, from our families. That's, like, an incredibly rich source of language for us to work with as poets who are trying to pay homage to the work that our people have done with this that we're trying to craft and also trying to create new lexicon.

Danez Smith: Speaking of language, we're going to talk to one of my favorite poets when it comes to, A, poetry and, B, thinking about language. 

Franny Choi: Uh-huh!

Danez Smith: I think she has a lot to say about it. We're going to talk to none other than Natalie Diaz. 

Franny Choi: Oh my god, I love Natalie Diaz so much.

Danez Smith: (GROWLING) So much….

Franny Choi: She’s so smart…

Danez Smith: (STILL GROWLING) love Natalie Diaz….

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (ONE LAST GROWL). OK. Natalie Diaz was born in the former Mojave Indian village in Needles, California. She is Mojave and an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Community. She earned a B.A. from Old Dominion University, where she received a full- tuition athletic scholarship. Diaz played professional basketball in Europe and Asia before returning to Old Dominion to earn an MFA. She is the author of the poetry collection “When My Brother Was An Aztec”— one tale I’d add, if you ain’t got that book, you’re trippin’—which the New York Times reviewer Eric McHenry described as an ambitious and beautiful book. Her honours include awards including the Nimrod Hardman, Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry, the Narrative Poetry Prize, a scholarship from Bread Loaf and a Lannan Literary Fellowship. 

Franny Choi: Oof!

Danez Smith: Y’all, we are about to get in to it with none other than Natalie Diaz….

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Franny Choi: (SMOOTH VOICE) You’re listening to the smooth sounds of VS... (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) (HUSKY VOICE) Welcome to Late Night VS...

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (HUSKY VOICE) This is dj Nutmeg. Coming at you loud and clear… Grab that cognac. Saddle up with your sweetie. We’re in for a long ride. First off we got some Edgar Allan Poe. After that some Phillis Wheatley. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Phillis Wheatley!? Why did you have to bring Phillis into this?

Danez Smith: Huh? That won’t turn you on? Twas mercy brought me from my benighted land, /

Taught my benighted soul to understand / That there’s a God and a Saviour too. / Once I redemption neither sought nor knew. / Some view our sable race with scornful eye; / “Their color is a diabolic dye.” 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Love you so much.

Danez Smith: You’re so mad I know that whole poem.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) I’m not mad, I love that. 

Danez Smith: I know. Alright, so, y’all, we are sitting here with none other than Natalie motherfucking Diazzzzzz in the studio. I should probably say that when I say motherfuckin’ … it’s early in the episode. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: That’s true. We’re, like, minute four.

Danez Smith: Yeah. White people are still listening at this point. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) They haven’t shut it off just yet. 

Danez Smith: So we are sitting here with none other than Natalie Diaz, the legend. So every time I say Natalie Diaz in this podcast, you’ll do…

Franny Smith: (HAPPY BIRD SOUND)

Danez Smith: Alright, I like it, cool. How are you doing, Natalie?

Natalie Diaz: I'm doing good. Thanks for having me, it’s good to be here with this… I mean, with you guys. 

Franny Smith: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Smith: What the interview is going to be like based on what drink request you put in the pre- interview. 

Danez Smith: Hmm. So we’re gonna have a bourbon cocktail kinda day. I'm very excited for it. So where are you coming from?

Natalie Diaz: Flatbush. 

Danez Smith: Flatbush, what’s going on there?

Natalie Diaz: My lover’s in Flatbush.

Danez Smith: Oooooh!

Franny Smith: Oooooh! Is that the term that you used to refer to them, lover?

Natalie Diaz: Yes, sometimes with a -s at the end. 

Danez Smith: Oooooh!

Franny Smith: Oooooh!

Natalie Diaz: No, I'm just kidding. No, no, my, my…. Yeah, I think I say lover a lot, lately. 

Franny Smith: That's great!

Natalie Diaz: I don’t know.

Franny Smith: I feel like people aren’t using that term enough and I really like it. 

Natalie Diaz: I think people say partner, sometimes, but...

Danez Smith: Partner sounds so stale.

Natalie Diaz: We haven’t shaken on anything yet. I think, you know, I feel like partner-people have reclaimed, like, we got married and we don’t wanna stay married. 

Danez Smith: Mmhmm. 

Natalie Diaz: But she’s… my lover I love her. 

Franny Choi: Ooooh!

Danez Smith: Shout-out to lovers! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: I need to make sure she listens to this. 

Danez Smith: Yes! Well, I don’t know. We're talking about the word lovers, I feel like... so one thing we were kind of excited about to talk about you with was lexicons. 

Franny Choi: That was one of the things that, when we asked you what you were excited to talk about, what, you know, that was something that jumped out at us, and I guess I sort of wanted to pose that to you open ended. Like, what have you been thinking about, like, lexicons. 

Danez Smith: Lexicons?

Natalie Diaz: Lexicography?

Franny Choi: Lexicay?

Natalie Diaz: I think I'm really interested in the American lexicon. Probably everybody in the room is. Especially because there is an idea that the American lexicon is a Western English lexicon and it's not. It couldn’t be farther from the truth. And I think my interest started just because, like, as an Indigenous person, American English sits on top of the indigenous lexicon. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: Even though we never acknowledge it. But I also think lexicon is a kind of physicality that most Americans are afraid of, that many of us are not. You know, whether it's, like, talking with your hands whether it's talking loud... We’re always getting in trouble for talking loud or... for being angry. It's like to me that's the physical part of lexicon. Like, it’s not vocabulary, it's not.... 

Danez Smith: But it's the way language happens. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. Which is again, like, from the body and so I'm really interested in, of course, like, physicality but how to always return language to the body. And so one of the ways I guess I talk about it is through lexicon. I know both of your works and I know that you both have your own lexicon and I think that's what American poetry right now is giving to America. Is this kind of lexicon that's more fearless than in other genres and forms, I think. You see it a lot in, like, hip hop and stuff is this willingness to embrace your lexicon and say these words have meaning to us, so when I use them they’re emotional. Versus, let me try to find a way to talk like you. 

Franny Choi: Mmhmm. 

Danez Smith: Hmmh.

Natalie Diaz: Whether it's a lexicon of the brown body or the erotic body or the sick body or the immigrant body. Like, we have all these different bodies I think that we try to give voice to. 

Franny Choi: That idea is so fascinating to me, especially because... I mean, I think that so many writers of color are not just trying to create language, but make, like, our experiences and our bodies like legible for readers who don't share our backgrounds. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: And so I think, like, I'm really interested both in the, like, lexicon creating and the, like, translating of experience. I don't know if you have thoughts on translation and legibility. 

Natalie Diaz: I mean, I have many and I think sometimes they conflict with each other. Some of it is also, like, knowing that I don't have to translate. That, if I can somehow come back to the body then that's where all of the emotion is, and that's all I need is emotion. America is really interested in the brown body right now, in terms of how the brown body performs. Like how do you perform grief, how do you perform rage or outrage. And I think that something that happens in very Western, very traditional, very white MFA classrooms is: they're kind of pressing that down on our students instead of saying, like, hey, this isn't a performance. This is actually a physical embodiment of you, of memory, of things you don't even remember that somehow you're carrying in your body. So I think that's one way I try to think about it, is... it's against the idea of performing. You know it's kind of, like, how can I not dance for them but still talk about what's important to me or what hurts me or what I'm afraid of. Also, what brings me joy. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: Which is why I like that the lexicon of the lover or the love poem is something I'm really interested in. We're all kind of trying to figure out how to do that without forfeiting the experience. You know, they suddenly are pulling us to one side and saying, like, oh, you're a witness. And so it's kind of... maybe the lexicon is against witness? 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: Maybe in some ways... Against nostalgia, against empathy…

Danez Smith: Yeah. I think we often get pulled into this idea of poetry as witness, but it's hard to say like motherfuck...I’m the event. (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Like, fuck a witness. I was the looking! I think a question that I've wrestled with for the last couple of years has always been, like, what does my writing look like outside of the white gaze. Which, I think, maybe, in thinking about this conversation, looks kind of just, like, how is my language exclusively mine and, like, how am I not my forefathers. And I think it's super hard to do that as an artist, because the art moves so many different places, right, and, like, how is it …. feels really close to the breast and close to the heart when it's, like, yours or when you're only sharing it with a couple of friends. But I think something about that trust and that closeness of the art is, like, violated the second I release it into the world. And it's no longer mine, like. And I know I've been going through times where, like, I'm going to take poems back a lot of times. Because, yeah, I wasn't done thinking…

Franny Choi: Totally.

Danez Smith: And now I feel like I have done the dance, right. Now I feel like…. and that's sort of maybe where I feel like the career is pulling the string that I want the heart to be controlling. 

Franny Choi: Hmmm.

Danez Smith: Because there's, like, this pressure, like, that sometimes it's, like, to get the work out there, but sometimes the language hasn't yet reached that point where it's mine. 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: It still feels too much like they own it. 

Franny Choi: Yeah. I recently had this experience where I read through all of my book, for some reason, I don't even remember why. Somebody had mentioned a poem in it that I had forgotten about. I felt so exposed. Like, I felt like, oh my god, I was really, like, saying my deepest, darkest feelings and thoughts in this book back in 2014. I was sort of stunned by, like, how plainly I was... I had, like, said certain things and the first time… I think many of us iterate something, like, explain something we use the language that is already available to us. You know?

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Like, the language that the world uses. And I think it's maybe only in the, like, third or fourth or fifth time that we think through a thing that we can actually create a language around it, like, create a vocabulary around the thing and not just use other people's words. I don’t know. Maybe. 

Danez Smith: Maybe.

Franny Choi: I'm just trying out this thought and see if it rings true to me.

Danez Smith: Does it feel good in your mouth? 

Franny Choi: It feels OK. It feels alright. 

Natalie Diaz: I wouldn’t trust it.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: Don’t trust that shit.

Danez Smith: No, anybody listening to this podcast…

Natalie Diaz: If it feels good in your mouth, that doesn’t mean anything. Not yet.

Danez Smith: Not yet!

Natalie Diaz: I think it goes back to lexicon. Like, I think we all have these languages we speak, you know, where we come from. But my native languages is... I think what it taught me is a kind of patience that I didn't have before. So, like, for... even with, like, my second book, like, I don't know what I'm going to do with it and I'm going to be going to take my time. Like, I mean, I realize it's operating in kind of a different format than my first book did and maybe the way people would want it to and so I'm willing just to, kind of, let it be what it is, until I know what it is. Like, so my language wasn't spoken for eighty-plus years. 

Franny Choi: Wow. 

Natalie Diaz: And so imagine, like.. 

Franny Choi: By anyone?

Natalie Diaz: Well… just by a few elders but it was never transmitted. And that's how… that's one of the keys is, like, how is a language living, it's because it's transmitted. And so it's eighty to ninety years… nobody had taught it to anybody else. So the elder— my elder teachers—were the last people who learned it. And some of them learned it because their parents managed to keep them home from the boarding school, which... kind of erased it from them. Like, literally washed it out of their mouths, but... So that's interesting to imagine language. One, language as verb, and I think that's something that's very ecstatic. I think I see it a lot in your work. Words, like, language is moving, you know. So language is actually a happening even though it's on the page. To think, like, these words are moving, like, they're physical. And that's something that my language of idolisation work has done, because a thing is what it was in the beginning, still. So it hasn't been, like, eroded or deteriorated. And we say, talk straight, like, a mountain is not a generic mountain. It is named for the thing that was done there. Or the thing that happened there. Or the feat that was completed there or the failure that happened there. And that is a really beautiful way of naming a place and talking about what has happened. And it's actually indigenous to many places. It's just when Western... you know, the Western languages kind of came through, and wanted to streamline everything, and rename everything, it's, like, you know, oh, this used to be the mountain that named that the warrior was wounded and, you know, crawled around it three times before he was able to remove the arrow from his thigh. And now it's named for some white guy who came in.

Danez Smith: Right. 

Natalie Diaz: You know. 

Danez Smith: You take away the language, you take away the memory. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. And you take away, like, memory is so different from nostalgia. And that's that American paradox to me. As, like, they don't want to remember what they did. They want to be nostalgic and nostalgia you can't trust.

Danez Smith: Hmm. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: And what is beautiful to me right now in poetry is, like, you have people like Don Mee Choi, you have Layli Long Soldier, Mai Der Vang… You have all of these people who are…

Franny Choi: Ooof, some hard hitters. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah! Who are—like, Solmar Sharif—like, who are, like, no nostalgia. No empathy. You know? And I think that's so important, because I really do believe memory is different than empathy and language holds memory. Like Danez says, holds memory, it's a physicality, like, you can hold the body there. But nostalgia is just, like, bullshit. 

Danez Smith: Yep. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: It's history… 

Danez Smith: Fluffy, it's... 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah! 

Danez Smith: And it's easily twisted. You can't twist memory. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, you know... 

Franny Choi: It’s, like, the filter over the thing and not the thing. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. Memory is, like, all that feeling that keeps you up at night. Or the things you're passing on. Like, like, memory is what you have in you that you're dealing with, and struck down with, and grief-stricken with that… that you weren't even there for, you know. 

Danez Smith: Ooof! 

Franny Choi: Hmm!

Natalie Diaz: But nostalgia is what they're telling you to forget about, because it was... actually, you know, there are reasons for it. It was a good time….

Danez Smith: It was quite nice…

Natalie Diaz: Yeah… a lot of picnics.... And, you know…

Danez Smith: Simpler times. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. So that's, I think, one of the lenses that my language work has opened up to me as, like, a purity and, like, body. And, like, no bullshit. You can't do that in my language. Like, it doesn't happen. 

Danez Smith: You have one of the most important debut collections of poetry in the last couple of years. 

Franny Choi: Agreed. 

Danez Smith: “When My Brother Was An Aztec,” which is, like, on every syllabus I've had to read it so many times for myself. And, like, so many times for a class. (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Yep. I just put it on a syllabus.

Danez Smith: There you go. (LAUGHING) What else is, like, are you finding is left to say. Like, what are the new things that you're finding, like, having moved past that book. Like, where are the poems going, what are you interested in, like, what is exciting you. And I know because I've been, like... well, maybe I don't. I've been trying to keep up with what you publish online, but… where are your new obsessions. Like, what do you find yourself writing to nowadays? 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, well, you both made very generous comments and I can say the same about both of your work. But some of my interests, I think... it's really hard for me today to come to poetry through poetry. And I wonder how you both feel about this, as…. and especially because you're doing so many things so. So immediately I think a lot of the things you guys are doing are bringing, like, poetry has become dynamic. I'm really interested in poetry outside of text on a page. So, you know, like the space between text and image. So I'm really into architecture which is again why this idea of lexicon and all of these things. So, I'm interested in the idea of love. Like, in this violent world. I think a lot of us are reaching forward in poems and trying to figure out what our acts of love through language. And it sounds really cliched and really lame sometimes to say. But I'm really interested in the fact that I often love myself better and my beloveds better on the page, you know. And so there's something about possibility that I'm interested in. Like, how can I be more possible. And poetry is one of the ways I do that. I just have to find other ways to come to it. So I'm doing a lot of collaborations right now. You guys obviously embody this, but I can't be a poet by myself in this poetry world. I wouldn't make it. I'm not interested in it. Like, it’s almost like we're all in this kind of think-tank that, you know, it's lucky when we get to overlap but we kind of have our little cul-de- sac. Like, my Rez is, like, made of cul-de- sac, so, it’s not, like, long streets but these little circles of streets. But, for me that's... it's, like, how can I collaborate if my friends, bring people together to do things. And a lot of times I fail. Sometimes they work.

Danez Smith: Word.

Natalie Diaz: But I'm really interested in my how to make that energy move off of the page. So how can I think of poetry not as, like, font and text. 

Danez Smith: Can you tell us some of those... about some of those collaborations? Like, who are you working with and what are you learning with them? 

Natalie Diaz: I have a good friend named Thomas Sayes, he’s an architect, and so really an interesting conversation. Like, how do you have a conversation that is not geared toward solution, agreement or conversion. 

Danez Smith: Hmmm! 

Natalie Diaz: We've all been stuck in those conversation. And that’s why we're not allowed to be angry and everyone gets scared or... you know, when someone cries or gets emotional, it shuts down the conversation. But when you think of our families, like, we had knock-down drag-outs, as my mother called them. We had blow-outs and somehow we still love each other at the end. Even if it's only because we're, we're family. You know? Even if you can't find, like... 

Danez Smith: ...know that I love your ass. (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, that’s the truth. But it's like… So I'm interested in that. And so Thomas and I are, like, toying with these sketches and plans of... how could we build a table that might help a conversation like that happen. 

Danez Smith: I’m gonna cry. 

Natalie Diaz: And there are crazy ideas, like, he's, like, what if there's a penalty box. So you can go in the box and break shit and come back out. Or what if the table was made of, like, part of it was made of paper so that when you're angry you can like destroy it. People know you're angry because they saw you. You feel like they understand you because they saw your anger. And yet you can still sit there without shame, without regret, without… 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: I'm doing some art exhibits, which is something new for me. I sketch a lot, I draw a lot, but I'm actually working with other artists, visual artists, to create text around the idea of play. So I'm mixing basketball with... 

Danez Smith: OK, I was about to ask, what kind of play now, because there’s dirty play…. 

Natalie Diaz: Nah...

Danez Smith: ...that’s where my mind went.

Natalie Diaz: And now I'm in my mind I'm mixing basketball and athletics with, like, sex. 

Danez Smith: Yeah! OK, my favorite things. I love the Spurs and I love penis. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: The Spurs! Oh no… 

Danez Smith: They play good, fundamental basketball, and I like good, fundamental penis. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Holla at me Tim Duncan. 

Natalie Diaz: I don't even think I know what fundamental penis is. 

Franny Choi: I don’t know what it is…

Natalie Diaz: ...it’s been that long.

Danez Smith: We can tell each other stories about what the other side is like. (LAUGHING) 

Natalie Diaz: Fundamentals… yeah. Well, the fundamentals are important.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Natalie Diaz: What is physical on a court is also what is physical…. when you're having sex, when you're making love. Like, I think basketball is very similar to that in all the same parts of your body you’re working the same endorphins, the same dopamine, the same things in your mind or in brain, or, are working. Another collaboration that I'm doing is working with a visual artist in New York on lines. I'm really interested in lines. 

Danez Smith: Word.

Natalie Diaz: I like a lot of weird stuff that that doesn't ever seem to match up, but somehow it does and it helps me create new work, I think. I'm actually working with Poetry Foundation, with Ydalmi Noriega, and we’re doing a Native women poets series.

Danez Smith: Oh, fresh!

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. So it's, like, kind of the first of its kind and we do a reading in an urban area and then we take those writers and then we go into one of the reservations and do workshops and things. 

Danez Smith: Ah that’s beautiful. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. I feel really lucky. And it's something that Poetry Foundation fostered, like, they asked, hey. So we're heading out to South Dakota Pine Ridge. 

Danez Smith: Ayy, I went to Pine Ridge, dope poets in Pine Ridge. 

Natalie Diaz: There is some incredible… they have a great, like, spoken word team.... 

Danez Smith: They do. They do. Their youth poets are really, really talented. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, they're great. You know, maybe, we’ll keep you in mind and drag you out, maybe.

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, so we’re doing some stuff there in Seattle, back in Arizona where I am. I know that's a lot of vague, like, kind of surface, but that's… like, the way … I think that's how my brain works. It’s kind of all over.

Danez Smith: Because I do think it makes a lot of sense, because I think about your work, I think I do think about physicality, like, the body is a very, like, active and, like, blood-filled thing in your work. You know, I think about, like, I posted one day on Facebook, I was, like, people tell me lesbian sex poems, and really what I was saying was, what’s the name of that analogy, and three people posted it and I was, like, thank god. I couldn’t think of the name. 

Franny Choi: No, but I think, for me one of the threads that came to mind when you were describing different projects is also, not just the body, but sort of, like, relations like between bodies. Relationships between people, I think. I mean, I think the architecture project sounds so in line with thinking about physicality and play. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. So is playing around with, like, these ideas that obviously you're close to in visual representations, is that influencing how you're bringing that back to the page and stuff? Are you, like, finding new doors into the work through working on tables and play-sketches and all this kind of other stuff?

Natalie Diaz: You just wanna say play one more time.

Danez Smith: I do, I do care about play. That’s my other podcast… (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING) Oh yeah. Yeah I am. I mean, again, it goes back to lexicon. The idea of a lexicon is what makes me possible. You know, my first book was very narrative's. Which is something that's in me. I'm Native American and I grew up on the reservation. We tell stories that last four days, you know, so the narrative is in me and kind of in my blood it's… I can lie for days. I can imagine for days… I can tell the truth for days, you know, I get.... But I think I'm looking for ways to disrupt text. Like, to make text feel not static but moving. And so for me I somehow have to pull it out of the context of, like, typography. Sometimes it works sometimes it doesn't. But I'm really interested again, like, in the idea of of the love poem especially. Because that's the thing we're not supposed to do. To build a speaker who has autonomy of pleasure, I think, is maybe one of the most important things I've tried to do in my life, you know. Because again I know that it's not something that was meant for us in the Western context of things. So. Maybe what I'm looking for is a type of pleasure. And that's where the physicality comes in, like, pleasure that is able to—and we all know this—able to withstand violence and be fed by it. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: And we're no longer, like, the the object of somebody else's pleasure. But to say we have some autonomy in choosing what it looks like, or how it plays out, or that it could involve all of these other elements, I think, is… I don’t know if the mic is picking up my ice cube clinking. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: I think it's perfect for what you're saying. 

Franny Choi: Yeah…

Natalie Diaz: This is about swelling the ice cube while talking about autonomy of pleasure. This is perfect. 

Danez Smith: That is some radicalized shit, in, like, this day and age especially, though, right. Like, I have felt a certain kind of pressure from outside forces as, like, a writer of color, like, I need to be concerned about certain things in this day and age in the year 2017, or I'm, like, actually, like, fuck y’all. (LAUGHING) One, this shit has been going on for ages and two, I’m gonna write about whatever the fuck I want to write about, right? 

Franny Choi: Yeah.

Danez Smith: But I feel like, every time I turn to an interview, like, how are you writing in the age of Trump? And it’s just, like, I would like to talk about pleasure. You know? I actually, like, I have these three poems about how I give amazing head and I'd actually…. To impose upon, like, the depths of that. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: I agree with you that, like, in a Western context we're not supposed to, like, that we is really important. Of who's not allowed to talk about pleasure, right? Because I take that we to mean small. Not all Western people, but, like, brown and, like, Indigenous and queer Western folks. We have never been allowed to talk about our pleasure in loud, upfront ways. And that's what I really draw when you work, like. As somebody who doesn't even experience pleasure in the same way, right? Like, we’re not having the same kind of sex. 

Natalie Diaz: I'm sorry. 

Danez Smith: I’m sorry. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: We're all sorry. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: True. But something is still unlocked from that, and there is, like, another type of liberation from that. And I think about, like, even when we talk about, like, the Freedom fighters they're, like, you know really, like, out here and stuff like that. Like, sure. I’m also interested in, like, how we’re, like, fighting against the forces and how we're, like, in the streets and how we're doing that. But I'm also just as interested in how we are tender and caring towards each other once we go back to our most intimate spaces. Which is just a really beautiful place. Which is just a way of saying, like, I hope everybody that's like fighting for my life right now is, like, bustin’ a good nut! 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: You know? And, like, getting the pleasure that, like, is needed for them. Because I think people want me to get so wrapped up in, like, forty-five and, like, all this other bullshit, but it’s just, like...We've been suffering for a long time. But even through that suffering, like, we have been experiencing, like, pleasure for a long time. Like, we've been keeping each other sane and happy and smiling for a long time. And that's another type of choreography that we can talk about. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. I think the and is really important. This and this. And all of us, we stand up to read a poem, and we get read, like, a table of contents. We walk down the street, we get bread, like, a table of contents so... and then being Indigenous, it's, like, it's so much easier for people to see the pain in my work. Not to see the humor or the tenderness. And I recognise that. I mean, I recognise that I dragged that book all over the country and that was something that in the second book, or what is becoming the second book, or what is a second book, it's something I want to be very intentional about. Like, to say... I guess I'm choosing this. And these things are happening, you know.

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Natalie Diaz: And you know, it's that whole idea, that's where people have been surprised by what has happened in America. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: And this is just, this is just the next step in what has been happening. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Exactly.

Natalie Diaz: And so this idea, again, that, yeah—it's pleasure and it doesn't have to be scandalous, it doesn't have to be in the dark. It can be something that's up and out front and have light in it, and be a bright kind of thing, no matter what kind of pleasure it is. And so that feels important to me. And it's not an easy thing. Cause like you say, there's a prescription for us. This has happened. Like, give me your sad poems, give me your response-to-this poem. 

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Natalie Diaz: Give me your gun control poem. Give me your Trump poem. Give me your…. And it's, like: these are all those poems! Like, something that is hard for me to deal with right now, which is why I'm really, like, wary in my poetry world as I'm not sure who my audience is anymore. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm..

Natalie Diaz: I want to talk to my people. And it doesn't mean they have to be Indigenous or queer. Just, I want to talk to people who have, like, emotions and who are worried about things and who still again, like, see me as a possibility. S ee people like me as a possibility. So it's an…. it's been an interesting stretch of time and I think that's why I've stepped a little bit outside of poetry. And not in a way that I'm shunning it by any means, like, it is my passion. But that's what's been able to bring me back to poetry, is stepping outside and talking with different minds and saying, like, I'm not just, you know, like, doing one fuckin’ reading after another, after another, after another. Which is how I felt for a little bit. 

(MUSIC)

Franny Choi: I loved what you said about looking for and creating those spaces that make you possible or make us possible. I was wondering, are there artists, writers that you're reading, looking at right now that make you feel possible, like, you feel, like, are creating that space of possibility for you?

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, I mean I think so. I think what I'm really compelled by and kind of perplexed by... I mean not in terms of history but just in terms of my own urgings. But I find myself being drawn to a lot of male poets in translation, and the way they've been able to talk about love. 

Franny Choi: Hmm!

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: It's almost, like, what I realize is: there are no... there are not many… —I shouldn’t say “no” or everybody’s gonna be, like... 

Danez Smith: (GROWLING) What are you talking about. Natalie Diaz is a liar.

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING) That voice is terrifying.

Franny Choi: It is! It’s a non-NPR-ass voice. It sounds like there is smoke at the end. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (BABY GROWL) I am the daddy of dragons.

Franny Choi: Oh my god. (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING) I think we lost Danez on that one. It's a little bit frustrating sometimes. To think, like, is this where I have to go to get those, like, ecstatic love poems? The poems that are just saying, like, I'm just fucking out of my mind, I don't know what to say. You know. It's like you know, like, Pedrosin is, like, beyond beyond beyond beyond. That's all they could say. It's, like, it's, you know it's not the way you exist in me, it's not who you are in my blood, it's, like, beyond beyond... To kind of, just, lose your mind in ecstasy I think is something I'm interested in. Because I think that ecstasy is not different than grief. 

Danez Smith: Wow!

Franny Choi: Wow!

Natalie Diaz: I think they're very similar. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Explain. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) I’m turned on and confused.

Franny Choi: I know. This is my state during this entire interview. (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: Well.. I mean...So there is this idea I've been turning around. You know, is that, often the brown body is the subject of other people's pleasures. Has been. It was with the knowing that we were powerless, that we had a certain grief embedded in us. That we were brought up from the clay of this grief, like, that's how we were formed. Is not the right line, yet, but there is a line I'm working with: don't believe it when they tell you brown people fuck better when we're sad. And I say… because... we fuck like we church, you know? 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: And full of sin and joy…

Danez Smith: Hallelujah. 

Natalie Diaz: ...and sweet cake and, you know? 

Danez Smith: Wait… n**** got pound cake in bed? I am missing out! (LAUGHING) 

Natalie Diaz: But, do you know, like… It's the reason why there are people running up and down the aisles. And, yeah, it's that space that's saying, like, I am more than the body. But all I have to move through is the body. I don't know, I'm... I'm not sure what my hypothesis is or what I'm moving through, except that, I think I've never felt more in my body as well as out of my body as when I've been, like, in ecstasy and when I have been in grief.

Danez Smith: I can feel that. 

Franny Choi: I also think that there’s, like, danger in … in performing both, or, like displaying both ecstasy or grief as queer people of color. What are the pitfalls of, like, performing grief. 

Natalie Diaz: You know, there is something at risk. It's... it's, like, the lack of control. I know people want our performances of those things, you know. They want to… when something bad happens, it's, like, oh, you know? Write a poem for me. Or tell me what you think. Yeah, I don't know, I... it's just a question I have. But I do think grief and ecstasy are pretty close together. 

Danez Smith: Hmm. 

Franny Choi: Hmm. There's this conversation that Danez and I were having with Douglas Kearney, where he was talking… he talked about, sort of, like, there must be a way to have that in the room without having it be, like, a vehicle for white people to, just, experience catharsis and feel cleansed by it. Like, can we put our grief out there, or our ecstasy out there, without having it just be a tool for people. Or only have it be a tool for the people that we want to access it. 

Danez Smith: I recently learned the academic term for this. Or at least in my work. I think a lot of my poems... I've been told that my poems do this and now I say it, is that they osc...

Franny Choi: That’s what we all do, right? (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: …I’ve heard several people say this...so… And now I can recognize it, that I do oscillate between, like, joy and sorrow, or, this, like, sort of, pleasure/grief spectrum that we were talking about. 

Franny Choi: Yeah!

Danez Smith: It's the field of Afropessimism. It’s just, basically, like, you know, I'm like happy, I'm joyful despite, right. And that “despite” is Afropessimism, right, because, like, we just know that everything sucks and….

(LOUD POURING OF LIQUID)

Franny Choi:(LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING) Coke Zero plug.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) Yeah. So this idea that, like, you know, I'm joyful despite. And so I recognise that. Somebody told me, and I was, like, oh now I see it everywhere I look. Is people dealing with this idea of “despite,” but I think what I'm trying to move towards now is not “despite,” it's just the both and. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. I think… that’s what I feel in your work anyway, is that “despite” is ...like, that's our grandparents.

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Natalie Diaz: I feel like they bear the burden of “despite” for us, and we are now suddenly in, like, this momentum. It feels irresponsible for me not to take that momentum and, like, let it turn me…

Danez Smith: Yeah.

Franny Choi: Mmmh.

Natalie Diaz: ...over the top you know because I... I do think we're in a very different place in America right now. It doesn't mean these things haven't been happening, but we're in a different place in that suddenly we're on the crux of realising we have a power, we just don't know how to use it.

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Natalie Diaz: We're kind of stuck between this, like, everybody wants a revolution but only if I'm the one leading it. We're kind of stuck in that place. But also we're stuck in that place as... as Americans, as I am. I am as Indigenous as I am American. Which is a tough thing to wake up to everyday. And, like, learn how to live your life that way. But it's also that we don't know how to sacrifice as Americans. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: You know, we have all of these institutions that are meant to, like, help us do these things and they haven't even figured it out yet. You know? Like I'm waiting for PEN America to be what PEN is in other countries. You know, I'm waiting... And so it's interesting to kind of think about the “and”, and, like, what we might do with it. And this is, like, another thing that I'm really interested in, is the idea of critique and rigour and the fact that we have to be the ones who critique. I think critique is a type of love. It's a kind... 

Franny Choi: When you say critique, do you mean of work or, of…

Natalie Diaz: I think.. of everything.

Danez Smith: Of the world. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. Because I think critical and. And I think that's what a lot of people don't understand when a person of color or a queer person or a poor person critiques, they immediately get defensive or want to say, but I'm different. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Natalie Diaz: Instead, like, it's this hard thing, like, I'm still trying to figure out what does it mean to be critical. And I don't mean that in a negative sense, I mean, critical and love is the way I try to think about it. I don't even being critical in any particular prescriptive way, but just to say, like, hey, that's messed up, you can't say that. You know, even though I'm sitting at a table that the university is paying for my dinner. When someone says something fucked up, I need to be able to say you know what? That's not how it is. You can't say that to me, or I hope you don't say that to anybody else. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Natalie Diaz: So, we're put in these positions and they are these choices we have to make. I think even within ourselves, like, I think that's the way we'll keep each other from those performances, or, like, I feel that way all the time, like, you mentioned earlier, you know, I wish I could do that again. You know, like sometimes I feel like what. What did I just do? You know, and that’s the worst feeling to have is, like, where was I in that? Was I just doing what they wanted me to do, was I only their projection of me? Or was I actually trying to, like, put out some energy or trying to change something. And that's the hard thing about poetry, is it's embedded in this belief that we can change things. You know that's why we're all here. But sometimes I get stuck and I think, like, I just do what they wanted me to do? Like, did me sitting up here making jokes about white people, did that just make them all laugh and now they feel absolved?

Danez Smith: Yeah!

Natalie Diaz: Or is it just like, fresh, fresh, fresh, and, like, you know, douse them all in some sort of, like, holy water and now they feel good?

Franny Choi: Like a cleanse. 

Danez Smith: Yeah yeah. It's bringing me back to that, like, that and instead of despite, you know as, like, folks who experience pleasure and grief, I think, from a way that we're talking about is, like, a lot of us coming from communities that experience both oppression and freedom in some very real ways. And I think when you sort of know those two realities sitting at the dinner table, right, and somebody says something messed up like that. It's a place where you pivot now, like, because you understand both oppression and freedom, you can pivot. It gives you a choice of, right, like,... Am I going to, like, be lax enough in my freedom that I'm going to let this moment slide, or am I going to be firm enough in what I do know about the other side of that, and be able to stand up and say some shit. 

Franny Choi: Well, I think also, like, the idea of the critical being based in a relationship of love, like, it's, like, or, you know, like, critique is, like, a relational position, you know, like, being critical. It is is standing and saying, like, I'm not just going to give up and turn away and, like, check out of this. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. It’s being able to stand up and say, like, we all deserve better. 

Franny Smith: Yeah, right!

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. 

Danez Smith: You know you deserve a better thought than this. 

Franny Smith: You deserve a better thought than this. (LAUGHING) That’s really good!

Natalie Diaz: Yes. My friend Christian Campbell told me this thing one time, because... so he’s Caribbean among other things. And so, it's tough, you know, in America you get lumped in as African-American no matter what your experience. You know? It's again that table of contents we get read as. But he said to me this about anger. We were talking about rigor. And he was just, like, you know, anger is a demand for love. He's, like, you have to quit putting your anger away. You have to quit trying to convince yourself you shouldn't be angry. He's, like, anger is a demand for love. And I think critique is that. We have many, like, incredible thinkers, like, I think Fred Moten is thinking towards this. I think about it with my friends, like, we have to be responsible for each other in that rigor. Because if we don't, then what we're doing is, we're letting people who are projecting themselves on us or who see us in a certain way or who have a narrative of us, hold us to a standard or a gauge that we actually shouldn't be meeting. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: How can we hold each other accountable? And it doesn't... I don't even mean like a workshop. You know, I don't you mean, like, let's workshop each other's work. But I just mean, like, in terms of saying, like, I'm lucky my friends are just, like, ummm... I don't know Natalie, like, you might be stepping out on this one, or… You know, like, the best advice I got is... a friend recently told me, he's like, listen you keep trying to do all these things and build all these things, he's like, but you know what, you need to come back home, come close to home, come close to your family. He's like, those people don't love you. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: And there was such an incredible and revelatory moment, where he's, like, come back home, come back to your family. You're up against the wrong things, it's not energy. It makes me emotional even thinking about it now. The whiskey helps, but…

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: It's hard to be who we are, what we are, as performers, as the other side of poetry, you know? 

Franny Choi: Do you feel like anger is really present in your work lately?

Natalie Diaz: I do. For me anger is physicality. Like, I was built through my body. So, you know, having been an athlete and the way my culture is at home and having been from such a large family, I processed everything physically. And maybe that's why I'm so willing to let grief and pleasure be so close together in ecstasy. But yeah, I think everything for me has to be worked out through the body. I have really bad anxiety when my mind is winning I'm not my best self, and so my body has to do a lot of work to try to relieve my mind in some ways. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm. 

Natalie Diaz: I think, for me, what I'm trying to figure out in terms of anger is how to critique some of the American institutions I want to be a part of. What I'm really trying to be cognizant of right now is, like, whose institutions am I being a part of, am I participating in, and what am I willing to turn an eye away from. So I don't know I'm... maybe anger is... I think it's maybe the thing I trust the most... 

Danez Smith: Ooof!

Natalie Diaz: ...is anger. 

Franny Choi: Fff.

Natalie Diaz: You know, you can't trust it because it feels good in your mouth. (LAUGHING) But I trust… 

Franny Choi: Oh man. I feel like I'm taking a semester’s worth of wisdom class. (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: None of these things are... mean anything. They're just thoughts, like,

Franny Choi: What do you mean they don’t mean anything!

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, but they're all like just these grand leaps of conjecture, but there are things that... I don't know, like... I just feel like language has this power. And if we can somehow figure out a way to give each other space in it and to let each other mess up and be fucked up and then also do well and also not compete. And I mean, I think we could do something, you know, we get caught up in so many of these structures that were meant to catch us. You know, they were meant to be... like little snares. 

(MUSIC) 

Franny Choi: So, Natalie, do you have a poem that you would like to read for us today? Can you tell us a little bit about it? 

Natalie Diaz: Yes. I am gonna read a poem called “American Arithmetic” and something I have been really interested is statistics. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: It's hard to make them poetic and a lot of times people shut off to them or they somehow, you know, find ways to create a different narrative for them. But there is a statistic that I've just been, kind of, dumbstruck by. And it’s the fact that Native Americans are less than 1 percent of the population. It's hard to know that and to fight for things you think are right. Like clean water on your land. Or your river. Or, you know, your people. And it's like, well, I'm less than 1 percent of the population. Like, it's clear why people are not paying attention to us. It's clear why Standing Rock happens, it's clear why Keystone Pipeline in general happens. But it's also interesting because, even though we're less than 1 percent of the population, Native Americans sign up for the military more than any other race per capita.

Danez Smith: Wow.

Franny Choi: Wow.

Natalie Diaz: Volunteer more than any other race per capita. It's just kind of crazy that we keep doing that. 

Franny Choi: I feel so bowled over by that. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah. And then… I don't tackle that statistic here. But I do definitely, kind of, repeat this idea that we’re less than 1% of the population. But we’re also killed... per capita, because we're 1 percent... more than any other race by the police. And it's just… you know, just African-Americans or black men and women who've been killed by police is…. It's now getting media attention. 

Danez Smith: Uh-huh.

Natalie Diaz: I mean, people act, like... I mean, I was recently on a panel where someone was talking about Claudia Rankine's book. And the white woman leading the panel said: well you know, it’s just...things changed so drastically in America. And she was able to record it. Over the last year. She really thought that all of these things had happened within the last year or two. 

Danez Smith: Oh wow…..

Franny Choi: Wow…

Natalie Diaz: And, like, so she…

Danez Smith: You know, white is some shit…

Natalie Diaz: No, but... It's crazy, you know? And it's crazy to me that the word white is so threatening. 

Danez Smith: Hmm.

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Natalie Diaz: I've been writing this poem on Facebook and, people don't know, but I put these posts up, but sometimes I”ll use the word whitelock. I'm building this, like, really long poem off of people's responses and what I've put up so that people are part of my experience. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: You’re been tricked!

Natalie Diaz: It's called White Noise. 

Franny Choi: Woo!

Natalie Diaz: But I thought, like, OK, so what if I just take away white. And just talk “facts.” That’s what people want, facts. So that’s what this poem is kind of about. Should I just read it?

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Uh-huh.

Natalie Diaz

 

American Arithmetic

 

 

 

 

Native Americans make up less than

one percent of the population of America.

0.8 percent of 100 percent.

O, mine efficient country.

I do not remember the days

before America — I do not remember the days

when we were all here.

Police kill Native Americans more

than any other race. Race is a funny word.

Race implies someone will win,

implies I have as good a chance of winning as

Who wins the race which isn't a race?

Native Americans make up 1.9 percent

of all police killings, higher than any race,

and we exist as .8 percent of all Americans.

Sometimes race means run.

We are not good at math.

Can you blame us?

We've had an American education.

We are Americans and we are less than 1 percent

of Americans. We do a better job of dying

by police than we do existing.

When we are dying, who should we call?

The police? Or our senator?

Please, someone, call my mother.

At the National Museum of the American Indian,

68 percent of the collection is from the U.S.

I am doing my best to not become a museum

of myself. I am doing my best to breathe in and out.

I am begging: Let me be lonely but not invisible.

But in this American city with all its people,

I am Native American — less than one, less than

whole — I am less than myself. Only a fraction

of a body, let's say, I am only a hand

and when I slip it beneath the shirt of my lover

I disappear completely.

(MUSIC)

Danez Smith: So every gaaay…. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: Every gay?

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) I’m drunk, what can I say… Um. So every episode, we play this little game called This vs. That. We're gonna give you two things and you tell us who would win in a fight. Okay? 

Natalie Diaz: OK.

Danez Smith: OK, cool. So in this corner for today we have ecstasy, and in that corner…

Franny Choi: The feeling not the drug. 

Danez Smith: Yes yes. And in that corner we have the feeling or.. the drug (LAUGHING) grief. Oh god, if there was a drug called grief? 

Franny Choi: Ugh. 

Danez Smith: Lord. Who would win in a fight! Ecstacy or grief. Who’s winning out?

(CHIME)

Natalie Diaz: Grief.

Franny Choi: That was fast!

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, but then grief will take ecstacy home and then… it’s a win. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Natalie Diaz: I mean, I think ecstacy is the end of grief. Possibly.

Franny Choi: So, but does that mean that ecstasy does win because grief then just becomes ecstasy?

Natalie Diaz: Well, I think I think grief puts our back into it and then ecstasy happens.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: We have no more podcasts. The podcast has dissolved into thin air.

Natalie Diaz: Thanks! (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: You can catch us in just two weeks on our new podcast: Natalie Diaz talks. (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) O.M.G, I am gonna go.. touch myself. 

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Um… so thank you, Natalie! 

Natalie Diaz: Naaah, muchas gracias… 

Danez Smith:Where can folks find you? You got Twitters, the websites, or you just gotta.. send a pigeon? 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: A smoke signal.

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: Just to keep the stereotypes alive.

Franny Choi:: Anything exciting on the horizon that people should be looking out for? 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, all kinds of things. Well, you know.

Franny Choi: We’ll put out some blasts...

Danez Smith: Keep your ear to the wind, y’all, every couple of weeks to see…

Franny Choi: Set your Google Alert.

Danez Smith: Just Google Alert “Natalie Diaz” and see what’s popping up. (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: (LAUGHING) 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Natalie, thank you so much. 

Natalie Diaz: Yeah, no, it was my luck. It definitely was my luck.

Danez Smith: Some drums playing…. (MOUTHED DRUM SOUNDS)

Natalie Diaz: As long as they’re not flutes we’re OK.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: You don’t have the flutes?

Natalie Diaz: I have a metal flute, but those wooden ones that they’re always trying to.. smash on Natives for a little…

Franny Choi: Sure, sure, sure, sure.

Natalie Diaz: Although my grandfather made flutes.

Danez Smith: God!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Natalie Diaz: This happens to be one stereotype that is true. And maybe the bourbon. But that's about it. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

(MUSIC)

Danez Smith: I am just beside myself. 

Franny Choi: Oh my gosh. Natalie is the best! She’s so great.

Danez Smith: Yeah... I have emotions in my heart and in my body 

Franny Choi: I learned so many things about poetry and (WHISPERING) my sexuality

Danez Smith: Right!? But also, like, I love that she talked about, like, tables and how to construct them, you know, I'm, like, I really hope that I can commission them to make a table for my family Thanksgiving. (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: How could you change the table that your family sat around at Thanksgiving to make it not awful?

Danez Smith: I think I will want the table to curve in on itself, so that way two people in particular—I’m not gonna say who—could like both be, like, at the table but never have to look at each other.

Franny Choi: Hooooo…

Danez Smith:You know? It's like even if they were, like, in the conversation, right, like, they could even be reacting to the things the other one said…. Well, like, I think sometimes even the facial recognition of, like, you're judging me right now, is like what, like, more hypes them, and that way they would be able to be with each other but not trigger each other. That's what it's like at.. well, church is not the right word, but, not be able to set each other off. 

Franny Choi: Hmm.

Danez Smith: Yeah, yeah. 

Franny Choi: I feel, like, for myself. Well… I mean, in my family... it's mostly just, like, my immediate family at Thanksgiving usually, but like it would be nice if, like, if anytime somebody got like too heated and were starting to speak nonsense, because they were just, like, too emotional, and they would just, like, sink down into the floor and be hugged by, like, a bunch of, like, pillows or a bunch of just, like…

Danez Smith: A comfort sink? 

Franny Choi: Like calm. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. 

Franny Choi: And then, like, rise up again when they were ready to re-engage the conversation. If something could, like, sense it, you know, if some… not, not, like, everyone was, like, you got to go into the comfort zone. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING)

Franny Choi: But, like, if the floor could just sense that you're getting heated and just, like, suck you up into a hug, you know? 

Danez Smith: That would be nice.

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) Yeah. 

Danez Smith: I like that, I like that. I would also like a table that allows my family to maybe… each eat in a separate room with a volume control band because my family is loud… And sometimes, just six of them n****, like, all around one table is just, like, too much.

Franny Choi: Too much?

Danez Smith: Yeah, we would get a noise complaint from, like the entire city… 

Franny Choi: Just, like, the mayor's office, like, let’s turn the volume down. 

Danez Smith: (LAUGHING) (NASAL VOICE) Turn it down! That’s my mayor voice.

Franny Choi: Good mayor voice.

Danez Smith: (SAME NASAL VOICE) Aaaah.

Franny Choi: Well, we’re so grateful to Natalie for her presence and for everything she brought here. Let's get out of here before it gets a little too rowdy. 

Danez Smith: Yeah. I would like to thank whoever invented gold chains. You sir or madam. Or maybe you were beyond gender even those years back. I would like to thank you, for making me so, so icy. You know, I just been like really appreciating my gold chains this week. Like, sometimes I'm like, this outfit is ugly and you know what it needs? A pop of um. And then, that gold chain is that um and I just feel really seen by whoever made gold chains. Who knew that I was coming. That my neck needed to be adorned with such… 

Franny Choi: On the other side of the gender spectrum, I would like to thank dependable boots everywhere, for going with every outfit and allowing me to feel like I can walk right.

Danez Smith: Yeaaaah!

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING) 

Danez Smith: I would also like to thank Ydalmi Noriega and Elizabeth Burke-Dain of the Poetry Foundation as well as the Poetry Foundation. We'd like to thank Postloudness and we'd also like to thank Daniel Kisslinger, our producer! 

Franny Choi: Our producer… And don't forget to subscribe to VS on Soundcloud and on iTunes and don’t forget to follow us @VSthepodcast.

Danez Smith: Tell a friend, tell your momma, tell your enemies too. Maybe it will make y’all friends again. 

Franny Choi: Yeah, bring you closer.

Danez Smith: And thank you, y’all. We'll see you next time, we'll be on here with a new poet, some new ideas and the same old you. 

Franny Choi: Or a new you!

Danez Smith: Or a new you, boo. You do you, you do you. 

Franny Choi: (LAUGHING)

Danez Smith: Now go do it. Bye!

Franny Choi: Bye!

(MUSIC)

Natalie Diaz joins Danez and Franny to talk the talk on love, language, and words creating worlds on episode 5 of VS.

More Episodes from VS
Showing 1 to 20 of 28 Podcasts
  1. Tuesday, December 4, 2018

    Kara Jackson vs. Titles

  2. Tuesday, November 6, 2018

    Jonathan Mendoza vs. The Movement

  3. Tuesday, October 9, 2018

    Jacob Saenz vs. The Block

  4. Tuesday, September 25, 2018

    H. Melt vs. Trans Liberation

  5. Tuesday, August 28, 2018

    Nate Marshall vs. Fear

  6. Tuesday, March 6, 2018

    Tarfia Faizullah vs. Beauty

  7. Tuesday, February 27, 2018

    Knockouts

  8. Tuesday, February 20, 2018

    Franny and Danez's Season 1 Favorite Moments

  9. Tuesday, February 13, 2018

    VS Season 2: Coming March 6!

  10. Tuesday, November 14, 2017

    Krista Franklin vs. Time Travel

  11. Tuesday, October 31, 2017

    Kuumba Lynx vs. Transformation