Curated by Laura Da’ | Contributing Writer
Featuring work by Helena Goos, Lucia Santos, Nathalie Marver-Kwon, Hazel Windstorm, Victor Xia, and Maeve Kenney
This essay is part of a series in which Poetry Northwest partners with Seattle Arts & Lectures to present reflections on visiting writers from the SAL Poetry Series. On Friday, April 30, Natalie Diaz will read and discuss her work at 7:30 pm PST. Tickets to future events in the Poetry Series can be purchased at the SAL website.
This year I have been co-mentoring a wonderful group of young writers through Seattle Arts & Lectures and the Youth Poet Laureate program. Recently, we have been reading poems from Natalie Diaz’s Postcolonial Love Poem and passing back and forth connections, ideas, and visions of possibility. In between our meetings, the routes I walk take me through a natural watershed of twisting hills and streams that slush into large river systems, lakes, and the Salish Sea. In the poem “The First River is the Body,” Diaz writes: “I mean river as a verb. A happening. It is moving within me right now.” As a collective action, I think of the responses my student have created to Diaz’s work as a watershed of shared thinking.
Talking about how to share these impressions and responses to Postcolonial Love Poem, one of the writers in our cohort suggested we should find a tree and pass a copy of the book back and forth with all our annotations and inspired poems tucked into the pages, so I’ve had my eyes to the madrona trees. The turning of the season pushes them into a lush olive luminosity. One day, all of a sudden, the path strewn with crisp ribbons of orange is sunlit, and the trees gleam with a clean olive underskin. Madronas are indigenous to the Pacific coast from British Columbia to California. Each region calls them by a different name: cross the state line to the south into Oregon, and they are madrones. Head north into Canada, and they are arbutus. Listen deeply to the land and they are the many names of the Indigenous languages of the Salish Sea. Come fall, the madronas will drop all their skin in a brittle peeling away, come spring, they will come back again.
In the Postcolonial Love Poem, Diaz writes “The rain will eventually come, or not. // Until then, we touch our bodies like wounds— // The war never ended and somehow begins again.” Inside the forever war, the drought and deluge, I’ve been looking for a tree to store a book in, a place to store my gratitude for my cohort of fellow writers of all ages, and for this book.
The First Water Is the Body
A sequence of stills from Victor’s filmic response.
The lines that subtitle this visual meditation come from Diaz’s poem “The First Water Is the Body.” Diaz writes, “We carry the river, its body of water, in our body.” In this film I attempt to define a local pond as a somatic interior that is not predicated on what is outside, what is taking, but instead has sovereignty in its original fluid form.
Shadow, light, and form are conversations with the eye. In our cohort discussions about the poems in Postcolonial Love Poem, image and visualization have been recurring themes. The poem “I, Minotaur” paces the page with images like “the fluorescent ear of a jackrabbit” and “the mesquite tree for the pyre.” Discussions around the use of color in this book felt like they could go on for days. My response focuses on the visual inspiration of light and color in the book.
I am touched—I am.
This is my knee, since she touches me there.
This is my throat, as defined by her reaching.
Borders, lines, destroy shape. Outlines: only in art is this what we are taught to avoid. At all costs, do not trace your muse in dark black graphite, ink, or paint. The lighting lights the lines. Alighting on her skin, alleviating her heavy boundaries to air. Shade in the shadows with a cross-hatched area by pencil, then smooth it over with a thumb. There. There she is.
These lines from “Isn’t the Air Also a Body, Moving?” evoked drawing with charcoal. When learning to draw, to make the leap from two-dimensional figures to three-dimensional beings, you must create shape by shadow and lightness only, never with outlines. Just like the air does for us: defines us by our existence in and our absence from space.
“The Coyote answers by lifting its head and crying stars”
(from Postcolonial Love Poem)
Sun shifts to shadow,
gold-light to red-light to afterglow
And coyote cries stars in the night–
The Pleiades, faraway and gleaming
Orion, with his star-studded knife
The river of the Milky Way, white-blue
and streaming, a thousand starlings, like smoke
While I was reading Postcolonial Love Poem, I found that the desert imagery really resonated with me, as well as the snatches of myth slipped into the poems. In this poem, I tried to imitate that style, by taking words that stood out to me, as well as using one of my favorite lines as an epigraph.
First, color: violet and sage, copper
enough to burn your tongue.
A landscape soaked in blood, myth, and history.
Then dunes shift to hips, wrists, a light-lick lasso,
smoke and silver. And so I wonder
at the sunset shadows of those I never knew.
These tales taste strange—words furl like color film,
more ticking seconds than I can catch
in this Postcolonial Love Poem.
The imagery and sound in this book were incredibly vivid, and I did my best to capture the experience of reading it for the first time.
American Sentences: Origins
My mother came from a land across the sea, she flew many miles to here.
My father grew up picking apples and cherries on a big orchard.
These poems are about me and my heritage: where I came from.
This piece was inspired by my favorite line from “Asterion’s Lament” by Natalie Diaz. In our group, we had just discussed the histories and etymologies of words; one word we looked at was “clue,” which came from a word for a string one would use to guide themselves. When I read this line, I remembered our conversation, and I was inspired by the way this image of a guiding thread had shown up once again.
Diaz concludes the collection with the poem “Grief Work” which includes the line “Why not now go toward the things I love?”
Laura Da’ is a public-school teacher and the author of the collections Instruments of the True Measure (University of Arizona Press, 2018) and Tributaries (University of Arizona Press, 2015), winner of the 2016 American Book Award and the chapbook The Tecumseh Motel. Her work has appeared in the anthologies New Poets of Native Nations (Graywolf Press, 2018) and Effigies II (Salt Publishing, 2014). A member of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe, she received a Native American Arts and Cultures Fellowship. Da’ has also been a Made at Hugo House fellow and a Jack Straw fellow. She lives in Newcastle, Washington, with her husband and son.
Helena Goos is the 2020/2021 Youth Poet Cohort Leadership and Coordination Ambassador. She is a 17-year old Seattleite who is partial to long walks on the beach and rainstorms. She’s been writing for who knows how long, and is honored and excited to have this opportunity.
Maeve Kenney is a sophomore at Port Townsend High School. She is an avid reader and writer, and her poetry is inspired by lyric poets such as W.B. Yeats and Richard Wilbur, as well as the natural beauty of the Pacific Northwest. Maeve has been published in a Jefferson County poetry anthology, Streams of Thought, and has participated in the annual Friday Harbor Labs Poetry Symposium.
Nathalie Marver-Kwon is the 2020/2021 Youth Poet Public Outreach and Exposure Ambassador. She is a published writer of poetry and prose. She enjoys receiving feedback on her work, good food, and good company.
Lucia Santos is an 18-year-old artist and writer from South Seattle. She is a member of the 2020-2021 Youth Poet Laureate Cohort, has been a participant in Young Women Empowered’s Y-WE Write program and the Seattle Art Museum’s Teen Art Group for two years, and performed at the 2019 Hedgebrook Gala. She was a contributing illustrator for Rookie Magazine from 2016-2018. lucialand.com / IG: @filipinamonalisa
Hazel Windstorm is a freshman at Port Townsend High School. Her work is inspired by the books, myths, and poetry she reads, as well as the natural world around her. Along with being a 2020-21 Youth Poet Laureate, she has participated in various local anthologies and in the 2018-19 WITS year end reading.
Victor Xia is the 2020/20201 Youth Poet Digital Engagement Ambassador. He’s invested in diverse forms of storytelling, and has been writing and creating for many years. For him, poetry is about the ground that we stand on—he’s proud to be here, in the Pacific Northwest.