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#NPRPoetry: Natalie Diaz

MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:

And now, sadly, our final National Poetry Month conversation for this year. All this month, we've been asking you to submit your original poems on Twitter or TikTok. And joining me now to talk about some of your submissions is celebrated poet Natalie Diaz. Her collection, "Postcolonial Love Poem," was a finalist for the National Book Award, and she is with us now.

Welcome, Natalie Diaz. It's such a pleasure to have you with us.

NATALIE DIAZ: Yeah. Gracias for having me. (Non-English language spoken).

MARTIN: People may have already figured this out, but you've been involved in language preservation for years. You directed the Fort Mojave Language Recovery Program. That is the language of the Mojave people, a tribal nation in the American Southwest of which you are a member. Would you just talk a little bit more about how that's influenced your work as a poet?

DIAZ: Yes. It's really allowed me, I think, what is a gift in terms of understanding the true power of language, and sometimes in its loss as well - to be able to have the perspective of saying, you know, there's a word that we might never find again or to be gifted a word that someone thought might have been lost and what that opens up to you of practice or action.

You know, we have a word called cavanam (ph), which was lost for a long time, but one of my elders remembered it. And it's a way that we heal and press and touch the body. And so that small, tiny word, cavanam - bringing it back into our lexicon and into our spoken conversations, it also led us toward touching one another differently. So I think that's something that the language work has given me, is the understanding that poetry is physical, that language is physical, and it has a power of touch as we carry ourselves to one another.

MARTIN: That's lovely. Well, with that being said, let's get into some of the submissions. And I just wanted to ask if you'd start with a Twitter poem.

DIAZ: Yeah, great. So one of the poems that struck me was from Jenn R-J, @jennfel. (Reading) Social outcast. I trade sandwiches with school librarian.

MARTIN: Wow. Yeah.

DIAZ: That poem is so striking - right? - because, again, the power of language - that a single word or several words strung together or touching one another can really open up this space of possibility and complexity. So, you know, social outcast - immediately we have a small hint of something that doesn't feel good or something that feels left out. And then suddenly, we move to the second line, you know, very quickly. I trade sandwiches with the school librarian. And so there's a kind of touch - you know, one sandwich, the other, hand to hand - and then the idea of the school librarian. And I think there's something of the communal and the solitary and every poet. And so even though there's an outcast, a word that could possibly have a kind of negativity to it, the poem reclaims this space of generosity and, again, of story and imagination in just such a small amount of breath.

MARTIN: I love that. I love that also because I love the way school librarian - you know, what does that bring up for you, right? For some people, it's, like, oh, you know, how many school librarians have been kind of the butt of, like, jokes in movies and whatnot? But for other people, for some of us, they've been such important people, you know?

DIAZ: Yeah. Well, I mean, radio, too, right? Like, you become the voice of our stories, you know, in the same way that these librarians have become kind of the arbiters or the givers of these stories to us. So it's really lucky.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for that. So you also picked a submission from TikTok. This is from user @cryptid_poet. And let's play it.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: A moment of silence, but with poetry instead of silence. Trauma shrinks your to-do list to a single bullet point - survive. Sometimes this lasts for a few minutes. Sometimes you are this way for years. Under Jupiter's gravity, even a heartbeat is hard work.

MARTIN: Wow. So what struck you about this poem?

DIAZ: You know, poetry is that vehicle where we can hold all of the things that are good or all of the things that are hard or all of the things that are still yet possible or impossible. And that's one of the things this poem reminds me of, even right away, the complexity of the first line, a moment of silence, but with poetry instead of silence. And, you know, thinking of the way poems are built, you know, the word for stanza is also - it means room, and so beginning to think of a poem as a place that you can step inside for safety or for rest.

I think, too, just the pressure of this time - sometimes this lasts for a few minutes. Sometimes you are this way for years. And then, you know, you have that final line - under Jupiter's gravity, even a heartbeat is hard work. And then what comes after? I think this is always the beauty of poetry is, like, what comes after that final line? Which is that, yes, it's hard work, and it's worth it. And I'm going to will my heart to continue beating.

MARTIN: Well, I just love what you picked. And so thank you so much for doing this. And sadly, this is the last weekend in Poetry Month for this year. But do you have some tips for how people can honor poetry, can work with poetry, live with poetry year-round? And do you maybe have some tips on how they could - I don't know - maybe build more time to write in their daily lives?

DIAZ: I think understanding - or for me, what works is realizing that I don't need an entire day to write a poem. Like, I can't afford an entire day, to be honest. Really, what a poem is, is an attention and an intention of language. And sometimes, you know, I think it's nice to pool from poetry into my day, to say that, oh, you know, my partner just called my name from across the room, and I'm going to let myself resound in the way that sounded. Or I'm writing a small note to a friend, and I'm going to really think about, you know, the way that I'm imagining my voice reaching her, or I'm going to spend a moment to think that there's an image I'd like to build for her.

And so I think sometimes just imagining the poem as being essential to the way that we would speak in a single day, not having to be different than the way we speak in a day to the people we love or to strangers who we might, you know, yet love. Sometimes it's not simply what I can make of my life that becomes a poem, but it's what I can take from a poem that will make my life a little bit better.

MARTIN: That is poet Natalie Diaz. Her latest collection, "Postcolonial Love Poem," is out now. Natalie Diaz, thank you so much for joining us.

DIAZ: Yeah, gracias for having me and, again, for making the space for poetry. Yeah. And every day is poetry day in my house, so it was lucky to join you all at the end of the month here.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE SONG, "SKIPPING ROCKS")

MARTIN: And we'd like to give a special thank you to all of our listeners who submitted poems this month. We appreciate you, and we hope you will keep writing and keep sharing. And we hope to hear from you next year.

(SOUNDBITE OF ODDISEE SONG, "SKIPPING ROCKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.