BY JOANNA C. VALENTE
My world was utterly destroyed by Natalie Diaz at Brooklyn Book Festival in 2014. Two years later, I still remember. I was lucky enough to have heard Natalie read her poetry and discuss identity & womanhood at a panel hosted by St. Francis College, & moderated by Hafizah Geter. Her words moved me; her words dove straight into my own mouth, restructuring my cells, taking away some and adding others both newer & stronger. The word 'move' is a verb which means, "a change of place or position."
The noun is movement. After listening to her speak, her tongue rolling over each line-break, I felt I was in a completely new place–-a new place where I couldn’t travel backwards. There was no return flight home. It is truly extraordinary to be awakened by the intangible, to re-examine and evaluate your current position, to make the decision to move forward.
I am privileged enough to let poetry shape my life, to be able to have studied it meticulously for six years, having studied literature and creative writing in undergraduate and then later as a graduate student. Education is a privilege most people take for granted; I have not. Knowledge should not be a business with numbers attached, but a choice. Natalie eloquently touched upon the subject, stating she feels obligated to teach others, to impart what she has learned in her own community.
In her book When My Brother Was an Aztec, she doesn’t shy away from controversial, emotionally wrought subjects, such as tribal life on a reservation, her brother’s addiction to meth, womanhood, and poverty. Most importantly, she writes about being human. She is real about what it means to be human, to be her own person.
In her poem "The Red Blues," Natalie describes menstruation in metaphoric detail; she does not make it pretty, she does not worry about the speaker censoring herself in an effort to appear "feminine." The female body, as all bodies, are grotesque in nature. She destroys gender stereotyping with language: "There is a bull between my legs" (Diaz 11). The appearance of the bull is not only sexual, alluding perhaps to a lover, but transforms the female body as being rough, violent, animalistic, and dominating. The speaker is controlled by her body, not by the mind; in this way, it illuminates that the speaker cannot control menstruation, nor her womanhood. Nor should she have to.
Joanna C. Valente is a human who lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is the author of Sirs & Madams (Aldrich Press, 2014), The Gods Are Dead (Deadly Chaps Press, 2015) & Marys of the Sea (forthcoming 2016, ELJ Publications). She received her MFA in writing at Sarah Lawrence College. She is also the founder of Yes, Poetry, as well as the chief editor for Luna Luna Magazine.