[REVIEW] PostColonial Love Poem, Natalie Diaz

(Buy it HERE.)

You know the face that jazz and blues musicians make when someone’s playing real good? That stank face, that disbelieving, how is this real, umph-umphUMPH this is so good it almost hurts face folks get when the art is hitting every bit of your spirit right? You know that face? ⠀⠀

That is the face I make when reading Natalie Diaz’s poetry.⠀⠀

In light of recent events, the title of Diaz’s most recent poetry collection seems like an obvious social commentary. However, a lot of the poems here are in fact odes to a lady love, or maybe more than one. There are also thoughts on culture, family, basketball (Diaz played professionally), and my favorite–water rights.(No, really!🌊) The poet uses a variety of formats to pour out her thoughts, and there are a few powerful repeating motifs running through the collection.⠀⠀

This didn’t quite grab me by the head and heart and rattle me around the way Diaz’ previous poetry collection When My Brother Was An Aztec did but that’s not really a criticism. There are a lot of things I didn’t quite get in this collection but I saw them as an invitation to fall back and think, not a failing. Unlike Diaz, I’m not Mojave, not Latina, not queer, not a former athlete, not (much of) a poet. This book doesn’t seem intended to teach me about any of those things. Instead it’s written from within those experiences, expressing a normal reality that I don’t personally intersect with in every way–and that’s a good thing. A lot of what’s in these pages is not really for me, primarily, and it would unfair to judge the work based on my own unfamiliarity. I will say this, though–I didn’t always get When My Brother Was An Aztec either, but the themes and ideas in it felt stronger and more thoroughly illustrated. I felt that collection more, even when I was blinking in confusion at the bits of Mojave language included in some of the verses. At times this new collection meanders off into riffs on the whiteness of a lover or Greek mythological references or city life in a way that seems a little unfocused, even when accounting for my own ignorance. That’s rare, though. The rest of the time., though…*makes stank face*.⠀

A few additional thoughts that are not really related to the book but are still relevant…

1) Y’all have no idea how hard it was to find an American flag pattern in my lil corner of Korea. I wound up having to take a trip to the obnoxious consumer enclave near a US military base and whew. Talk about postcolonial…

2) I learned a lot from reading this but the most sobering lesson wasn’t in the book at all. When searching for information to augment my reading–music, pictures, cultural information, etc. from Mojave/Aha Macav people, I had a very difficult time. It’s not that nobody is sharing or producing these things. It’s that to get to them you have to wade through a shocking amount of consumer products–incense, technology, packaged foods, all sorts–none of which seem to be owned by Mojave people. Then you have to trek through material on the famous desert–also largely not owned or managed by the people with the same name. After a targeted search and wading through tons of unrelated information with the same name as the nation that Natalie Diaz is from, I finally found some resources–but the fact that it took so much effort surprised me and got me thinking about postcolonial erasure and the trauma of occupied land more than the actual poems in the book did. This is not a comment on poverty, social problems or anything like that–there are over 500 indigenous nations in the US and all of them operate under different circumstances. Not all tribes are poor, embattled, or high risk, although many are. My point is that while I still don’t know a lot about the Mojave nation’s economic or social conditions, the fact that I had to search so hard for real information written by an expert from within the community is…not a shock exactly, but certainly upsetting food for thought for those of us who are not Mojave and not indigenous. Black American history, in contrast, is not widely known, but it is easy to find if you look for it. ⠀⠀

4 stars and a jump shot from a riverbed to Postcolonial Love Poem.

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