Natalie Diaz: ‘It is an important and dangerous time for language’

Sandeep Parmar: …she distrusts institutional power. “What is knowledge for an indigenous person? The things that I know are only considered knowledge if someone outside finds value in it. A large part of my work in the university is to teach my Native students that the things they know and are part of their practice of living – caretaking the land, caretaking their family, the ways we know weather – those things are research. And not just because a white academic studies us and declares there’s value in it.”

Equally, she is critical of “mastery” and the fixities of poetic craft. Her own use of traditional forms and allusions – Ashbery, Whitman and Sexton appear, as do Borges, Homer and Lorca – are means of expanding rather than circumscribing her practice. Poetry is a way to hold knowing to account and craft is “an exchange of different knowledge systems”. Sometimes to listen to Diaz speak about aesthetics is to overhear a longing more private than a mere laying out of the poet’s tools.

Community and correspondence pervade her work, as does a lyric self that shifts into the bodies of her “beloveds”: a brother, friend, mother or a lover. If love is a radical becoming, desire is a search for what’s possible.

“Most of us live in a state of impossibility,” Diaz says, by which I think she means not the inverse of hopefulness but an awareness of the limitations of an individual life. Impossibility as a state of desire, a will towards rebuilding. “In Mojave, our words for want and need are the same – because why would you want what you don’t need? For me, that’s true desire. Desire isn’t frivolous, it’s what life is.” More here.

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