Rex Lee Jim Poetry Reading


On behalf of the
UT libraries, I am very pleased to be
hosting Rex Lee Jim for tonight’s reading.
My name is Gina Bastone, and I’m the humanities
librarian for English Literature and Woman’s and Gender
Studies, and I also coordinate the UT Poetry Center,
which is just to your right in the corner
back there. We’ll be having a reception after the reading,
including a book signing, and there will be some materials
about the Native American and Indigenous Studies Program
here at UT, as well as please take a moment to look at the
exhibit that’s on display in this poetry center.
We’ve included a number of works of poetry by
other Diné/Navajo poets and poets from other
Southwest tribes, and we have some really great
work featured, so I do hope you can take a
few minutes to browse. So now I’m pleased to
introduce Professor Luis Cárcamo-Huechante.
He’s the Director of Native American and Indigenous
Studies here at UT. (applause)>>Good afternoon.
(speaking in Mapuche) An indigenous Mapuche
greeting in the language of my people, the Mapuche
people from South America. A moment to welcome
everyone, and also a moment to welcome our guest speaker,
poet Rex Lee Jim. I am Luis Cárcamo-Huechante,
Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies, NAIS,
here at the University of Texas, Austin.
I welcome everyone to this important event.
A poetry reading by our special guest, Rex Lee Jim,
a prominent poet, public figure, and tribal member of the
Navajo Nation. For this poetry reading, we as NAIS were able
to collaborate with the UT Poetry Center and Humanities Librarian
Gina Bastone. I am in deep gratitude to Gina and the
UT Poetry personnel for engaging in collaboration.
I also want to thank colleagues James Cox from the
Department of English, Pauline Strong, Anthropology,
and Anthony Webster, Anthropology, who helped us to give shape
to this– to the marvelous display of books of poetry
by Navajo authors here, down there, in the UT
Poetry Center. My special thanks to
Alicia Ramirez, Adminstrative Assistant of NAIS, and the
students who have been helping us in the
organization of today’s event. We are also giving brochures
about NAIS programs out there. Ours students is [indistinct]
Garcia and Andy Harrington are helping us in all of this.
Finally, let me especially thank Professor Anthony Webster
from the Department of Anthropology and a member
of the NAIS Advisory Council, who has been at the heart
of everything for this important event.
Professor Webster will be hosting the event this
evening, and will introduce our guest poet and speaker
to you, poet Rex Lee Jim. Welcome. (applause)>>Thank you Luis.
So Luis introduced me, so I don’t have to introduce
me. About 17 years ago, March of 2000, I was in
Shiprock, New Mexico on the Navajo Nation.
I was there trying to figure out a dissertation
project. My previous project had, unexpectedly, fallen
through. I was talking with a linguist named Clay
Slate, and we were talking about my interests, and
I mentioned that I was deeply interested in poetry
and poetics. Clay then suggested that I should meet with
someone. So he called him, and asked him if he’d
meet with me. The person said yes,
and then went on to add that he was at the Navajo
Nation Inn having lunch, and if I could get down there
in a timely manner, then he’d meet with me.
The restaurant was in Window Rock, Arizona,
the capital of the Navajo Nation. A fair drive, but I had a rental
car. There was only a touch of snow in the mountains,
and so I gave it a go. The poet I met that day,
and really, someone who set me on my career track,
for better or for worse, was Rex Lee Jim. Over the
course of our conversation that day, I formulated a
dissertation project in Ethnography of Navajo
Poetry and Poetics. It’s a project that I have
continued on for the last 17 years. Jim had already
written his three books of poetry, two all in Navajo
and one in Navajo, Gaelic and English, and was teaching at Diné College in
Tsaile, Arizona. Jim has gone on to be a tribal council member and
a vice president of the Navajo Nation. Though in interviewing Navajo Times
in April 2015, while he was still vice-president, Jim said “I am a
poet. I always say if I am going to be defined as anything, it’s a poet.”
I think of Jim as a poet as well and all that is entailed in that,
a kind of fearlessness in the use of language and a willingness to
remind us, all of us, of our shared humanity and what that might
necessitate. I was struck again by that quality when Jim and I
and Laura Tohe, the current Navajo Nation poet laureate, were
at the poetry event in Columbia, South Carolina in November.
It was there I might add that Jim and I talk about him coming
to Austin to do a reading and I am especially appreciative to NAIS and
the poetry center for their eagerness in making this happen. I should say
something about Navajo poetry since the UT poetry center is honoring
their work and so I will say something simple but first a story. When I was
doing field work in 2000, 2001 I asked Jim what made Navajo poetry
Navajo poetry. And as resolved in the case he took my question and
turned it around and asked me what I thought made Navajo poetry
Navajo poetry. I didn’t have a good answer. I still don’t. I hope in some
ways, I never do. Because I feel like when I have that answer, I’ll have
lost a kind of central curiosity, the kind of curiosity that is often
a hallmark of Jim’s poetry. Before I did field work, I read as
much of the published Navajo poetry that I could get my hands on and I found
it all very, very serious. When I went to my first poetry reading, the thing that
surprise me was the laughter. Navajo audience members laughed.
The poets laugh. I’d completely missed the humor of the poems. The books
on display here and the poets they represent, bring back so many
fond memories for me. So much humor. So that’s the simple thing about
Navajo poetry. And like most simple things, it’s easily missed. One of my
most vivid memories from doing field work on Navajo poetry was
an interview that I did with Jim in October of 2000, at Chinle
on Canyon de Chelly. It was a clear crisp night. The stars were out at
night and I interviewed him about his poetry at one of the overlooks
that looked down to the canyon, though to be honest, it was dark so the view
was obscured downward. Upwards was another story. The stars predominated.
Indeed, Jim recited a poem about stars that night, or a star, or a particular
asterism. I tape recorded the interview because we used to tape record things.
And it’s a tape I have returned to often, an interview that I thought
about often. It’s a poem I thought a good deal about as well. They have
gone to work on me in many ways. Towards the end of the interview,
the conversation turned to what it was that Jim wrote poetry about
and the meanings behind his poems. What he said has guided a fair
amount of my thinking about his poetry to this day. So I wanna
leave you with these words spoken by Jim in October of 2000 as
a way finally, to introduce Rex Lee Jim. “There is always, the poem presents
and identifies a problem. I shouldn’t say always. Many of the poems
identifies a problem and at the same time, offers a solution of something
and I will not tell you about that. You have to come to that yourself.”
Indeed, we must all come to that ourselves and that’s the humane
promise of Rex Lee Jim’s poetry and so it is my great pleasure to
introduce Rex Lee Jim. (applause)>>(speaking in Navajo/Diné) I am often asked if I prefer to be identified as
American Indian or Native American. And I say I have no idea
what that means. Then they ask me, do you prefer Navajo or Diné?
My response is the same. “I have no idea what
you are talking about.” I am of the red horse people,
of southwest Rock Point, a place called (inaudible). We are that specific
who we are when introducing ourselves. Born for a certain clan and we end up
talking about who our grandparents are and so… I have another friend whose father told him, the day you become Navajo, that’s the day you lose
your language and who you are. And so when we introduce ourselves,
we are very specific and so I would like to believe that I write most of my work
in Navajo because that’s who I am. The more specific, unique and distinct
Navajo I become in my writing, people tend to respond more to
my work. I thought about that and realized that the more Navajo
and unique and distinct I become, the more human I become and I begin
to reach into the depth of humanity, I can arrive anywhere on the surface
of the Earth and be at home with others because we do have that
human connection and that’s important. Thank you. I will be all over a place
with my reading. And it will be your job to make
some sense out of it. So I will start with the most recent
poem that I am working on. When you are writer, you always
carry several notebooks with you, different shapes and form and
here is another one. I have an iPad and then I have my phone so… I talked a little bit about this last
night at dinner and then I was handed some pamphlets by I guess some
people, Catholics or whatever they were, so I looked at that
and so before I came here I started writing this poem. This is how it
begins. It is not done yet but it says “Jesus Wept. I heard.
I wept too for his weeping. Jesus don’t come back yet.
Jews continue to kill Jews in Israel. Christians continue to kill Christians.
The new gentles. Don’t come back yet.
You may weep again. And they just might kill you again.
This time, the Christians might kill you, in your own name.” I am not sure where that will go.
But… This is the poem I will read but
it’s in Navajo. I won’t translate. I don’t know how to do it but
I want you to just to listen to the rhythm and sound of the language. Sometimes, certain poems are not
translatable not because of content or concepts, but because of sound.
You cannot replicate that. (speaking in Navajo/Diné) (speaking in Navajo/Diné) (speaking in Navajo/Diné) That poem was about the first song
and then it ends in a juniper tree. But it comes back out of that
juniper tree poetry. And you know the Navajo (indistinct) book was made out
of juniper tree. So the whole poem was about any sound, whatever sounds
important to us, that’s what we pass on to our kids, who is
(indistinct) and then makes a lot of references to songs and prayers
in the past and in the future and so it’s… This one I will read in Navajo
and then do the, attempt English. (speaking in Navajo/Diné) It’s translated as language so.
I translated as voice or expression. In the beginning I was yesterday.
I was. Today I am. Tomorrow I will be. Forever I will be. Language I am.
Sacred language I am. Sacred language this I am.
People think with me. People act with me.
People pray with me. People sing with me.
People speak with me. Language I am.
Sacred language I am. Sacred language this I am.
I come in many different forms. Because of me, people think differently.
Because of me, people act differently. Because of me, people pray differently.
Because of me, people sing differently. Because of me, people speak differently.
Language I am. Sacred language I am.
Sacred language this I am. Because of me, there are many different
cultures, evaluate different ways of doing, evaluate different goods,
evaluate very hard goods. These are why I give myself
to the Earth surface people. A holy people. A respectful
people. A compassionate people. From within them I sound in this way.
Life continues to expand. These are reasons why I gave myself
to the Earth surface people. Language I am. Sacred language I am.
Sacred language this I am. Forever I will be. Tomorrow I will be.
Today I am. Yesterday I was. In the beginning I was.
Language I am. Sacred language I am.
Sacred language this I am. This one is… a poem about spring. Navajo we offer sacred jewels
or songs and prayers and places out in the dessert, sometimes
just very, just a wet spot and water is sacred and so we do
a lot of stuff out there through prayers and songs and
offering to the water so there might be rain. In fact, in many ways, every time
we say something or eat something, some of the ending phrases we say
is (speaking in Navajo/Diné). “Made rain.” And my grandfather was a medicine
man so I saw, I was observed him do this a lot of time. But right now,
we have in those places, we have a lot of windmills. I will read it in Navajo first and
then in English and then in Navajo. There is a phrase in English that
sort of hard to translate into Navajo. I was just reading a chapter by Tony
just on that one word. Want to learn more about it. You can
read that chapter. (speaking in Navajo/Diné) Spring. The place used to be sacred.
I still remember I was only a kid when I followed
my grandfather there. But I don’t remember everything.
Still, the man got well. Now he is healthy,
walking about. He’s becoming an old man.
I still remember. We went there with this man. Hard jewels were
selected for offering. They went there carrying the jewels.
My grandfather and that man went there. To that spring out in the middle of nowhere.
I sat in a truck parked some distance away. I was told to stay in the truck.
So I stayed behind. When I looked to the west,
clouds floated about. Showers drifted about.
To the west, thunders rolled and lightning flashed.
The whole land sparkled in water. The whole land was beautiful.
Yes. It was beautiful. I think this maybe the place
I still remember. Now, a windmill is standing here. The wind spins
the metal. Where grass grew, sand dunes roll, where young birds
used to travel only crows hop about. Where sacred jewels were offered,
naked women spreading their legs are depicted on the metal.
Where sacred songs were heard, drunks yell.
Where prayers were offered, people scream “fuck you!”
Where people pray earth, my mother. Water woman. My mother.
Where people related to the place. You want a good fuck, go see
Sue or Mama are scribbled onto metal barrels. Where the earth
sparkled in water. Wine bottles reflect in the sun.
Beer cans shine up the place. The place used to be sacred.
I remember. And parked some distance away,
sitting in my truck, taking the slug now and then.
The place used to be sacred. Then I don’t remember everything. It is… sad to see you know, all these… sacred places. So not only now
we are doing this, to Navajo places. But there are
sacred rock art that’s out there and (inaudible) was coming in, using whatever tools they need
to take it out and then sell them in Europe or other places.
Have no regard for what’s sacred. So we do need to address
some of those issues. Next one is called Hunger, Dichin. I will read it in Navajo first and
then English. (speaking in Navajo/Diné) Hunger. We were in Farmington until late
afternoon. Some wanted big mac. So we went there.
Meat patties thrown between buns, mixed with tossed salad, really,
fixed young craving bellies, forever hungry. Only the after
taste was displeasurable, I was told.
Others wanted pizza and we went there too.
We watched the pizza being made for a while and an extra large
tortilla was spread out, topped with plant juice and
melted cheese. And on top of that, small pieces
of meat were scattered, polished with grease.
They really ate up that one too. My younger brother wanted a bite
from both. But they didn’t let him. My paternal grandmother didn’t
eat until we got back to Shiprock, where she bought a kneel down bread.
although toothless, and the bread dried her throat.
She really enjoyed her meal. With dimming lights I began the long
drive home in total darkness. Some slept peacefully and
others snored. With sleepy eyes glued to the road,
I drove on, wondering, what they are dreaming about. If you know anything about politics,
there was a rival between a person called Peter McDonald.
So obviously the big Mac refers to that. And the other one, Peterson Zah
so pizza refers to this. And when we were growing up,
Peterson Zah was already in place so he was like big Mac, already,
all dress up the tie and everything. When Peterson Zah got into office,
it was, we saw him becoming a leader and he was a little bit more traditional
so therefore the reference to the tortilla. So it’s a political
statement but if you understand that for politics and a lot of
the references in Navajo. It make sense but if you do it in
English, people says what junk food? I say come on politics not junk food.
That’s wonderful story you know. So… And let me read some current stuff
that I am working on. This one is titled (Title in Navajo). (Title in Navajo/Diné). I try to hear. But (Navajo/Diné).
A multitude of voices of whether they (Navajo/Diné),
takes me back to dogs barking in Navajo country.
Reminding me (Navajo/Diné). And my stomach growls
(Navajo/Diné). You roasted green chili.
(Navajo/Diné) I try to hear.
But the (Navajo/Diné) songs remind me of summer heat waves
of Northern Arizona. (Navajo/Diné).
(Navajo/Diné) rising. (Navajo/Diné).
(Navajo/Diné) rises too. I was talking to Tony saying that,
we are heading to Costa Rica in May. There is an individual there who
wants to work with me and translate a lot of my poems from Navajo to
Spanish. Look forward to that. The next one is called darkness. O pure darkness.
and you are at your darkest, vast and everlasting.
You focus my eyes to see stories against the vast sky.
I see poetic stellar designs. Blinding poets of the past.
Making them grasp for words as you throw stars across the horizon
of earth, burning with desire that lovers can only dream of.
O vast and great darkness. At your core, I hear crickets.
Sing in chorus. My hearing magnified to hear rivulets celebrating
the spirit of the night. The awesome darkness.
Deep inside you, lovers mourn with passion
and new life comes alive and the depth of the sweat lodge.
Songs are sung and prayers are uttered and the spirit lifts and moves
in the heart of darkness, in your heart and your obscurity.
O eternal darkness. In you. I give light to the world. The faster they make these computers
the slower they become. (audience laughs) This one is also still in progress.
We were looking at masks. And so it’s just for now tentatively
called masks. Seen in Indian country, we and
our ritual dances, ritual drama. We use a lot of different kinds of
masks. This one I was playing around when I was visiting the Boruca people
in Southern Costa Rica, looking at their masks and so.
You might… There is a phrase in there I am not
really sure, I forgot how to pronounce it correctly so… There is a name in there.
You probably even know. Rhythms of ancient dances lurk
just behind those eyes. Eyes carved by yearning hearts.
Lurking steps wanting to dance stories. And it would love to move those
stories and rhythms of ever expanding cycles spiraling into vast azure sky.
But before that, my body needs to learn new moves, moves that
defy the mind perhaps, even the spirit. Masks of ancient songs that want
to be prayed and dance. I see one with feathers of birds.
Birds I don’t see. Birds I don’t know.
Hints of their songs in the forest but I don’t understand.
Did I just hear the voice of (Navajo/Diné)?
Did I just hear them say, masks? Also can say face.
Put it on Tony. And as if commanded,
Tony puts on the feathered mask. Just then, (Navajo/Diné) whisper.
See? I perform miracles too.
In silence I think, (Navajo). I love to travel and… there were a group of friends
and then we, from Diné College we used to put a trip together
and we don’t want to go travel and hang our where tourists
hang out cause most of the tourists are Americans. You don’t want to
see them over there. They are embarrassing. So we set it up
where only indigenous people, especially Navajos we come together
and we travel. The Americans visit other indigenous peoples.
Did a lot of exchanges like that and wonderful work. And in one of those places
we do different kinds of exercises. I am a playwright too and an actor,
producer and so. In fact I would do stuff like this so we do a lot from
a theater exercise and one time we were doing what’s called
the mirroring exercise and really have a connections.
We will ask to write out. Because of that so I did that
and I tried, it’s called connection. Oh, I am supposed to mirror you
and the stance. But I will ask you right from
the beginning. My dear love. You were so fast.
I couldn’t keep up. I felt like you took me for granted.
Mistepping with you most of the time. Please. Slow down for me
so I can be suave and (indistinct). You need to breathe and listen,
listen to how the songs of the forest in accord.
Not when the voice wanting to take over but not needing
to control but playing together, singing the song of the forest,
the song of the universe. Can we slow down so we can move?
One continues to move it. With heart. With song.
My love, I so much want to sing with you. I am also a medicine man,
a blessing (unknown) so a lot of… I know hundreds of songs and
prayers that we chant all of that so sometimes I have songs similar
to what are poems. And I will do one of those.
And normally, the songs and prayers we do, I don’t translate it.
But I will just do it in Navajo. So I will do one, maybe a couple
of those for you, just to give you an idea. But these are not sacred
songs that you are using at ceremonies. It’s similar to that
and based on that. Just understand that. They are not the songs
we use in ceremonies. I just made them up.
So… (singing in Navajo/Diné) It’s translated I guess as,
(Navajo) means I am. I am I am I am.
I am walking. I am walking. I am walking in spiritual way.
I am walking in spiritual way. On the tip of my feet, it sounds.
My knees, it sounds from the top of my hip, it sounds
from my chest, it sounds from my shoulders.
It sounds from the tip of my cheeks. It sounds from my eyes.
It sounds from the tip of my tongues. It sounds from the tip of my
feather. It sounds. I am. I am. I am walking.
I am walking. I am walking in spiritual way.
I am walking in spiritual way. Shuh. Listen.
Shuh. Listen. It sounds.
It sounds. Somebody one time asked me,
what sounds? (laugh) I said, listen. If you hear something,
it is a laughter. Follow it. Look what it does to you.
Someone is crying, listen to it. So focus on the one sound.
Let it work on you. The whole body and move with it.
See where it takes you so. Next one is called (indistinct),
In the Middle of the White Cornfield. (singing in Navajo/Diné) This is a very simple poem and
I started doing some of these types of poetry because at one time,
there is a poetry festival and these young kids they were trying to
recite some of my poems and I said, it’s not for little kids to recite these
poems because that’s not what they are written for. And so I thought
about that. And I thought about nation building and I thought about
all the things that we are doing. What do I need to do for younger
people like them to do these. So this poem, it says, again,
it’s always, I am walking, I am walking. In the white cornfield I am walking.
White Corn. White Corn. When I plant white corn seeds
or kernels, white corn grows. Yellow corn. Yellow corn. When I plant yellow corn seeds,
yellow corn grows. Blue corn. Blue corn. When I plant blue corn seeds,
blue corn grows. Black corn. Black corn. When I plant black corn seeds,
black corn grows. From the tip of my tongue.
The songs of (indistinct). Songs. The songs.
(indistinct) songs. I walk. I walk. So I will just go ahead and
stop here and pause for questions and answers and thank you.
(applause)>>Are there questions?
We have a microphone.>>Comments.>>I am very happy to be here
(inaudible) I’m very happy to hear
that the Navajo Indians are working a lot with poetry, and you’re representing
this, so my question is if you know that some of the other indigenous tribes
around in the US are doing similar? I’m just afraid of all this indigenous
knowledge and wisdom vanishing, so if you could tell if you know about
that, thank you.>>There are poets writing different
languages, like Ofelia Zepeda, from Tohona O’odham, she writes in Tohona
O’odham, then there’s others, and then most of the poets, especially
the Navajo, write in English, but they put in a phrase here and there in
Navajo, and then there are Navajo poets who write in English but when
they read, they add extra lines and different things in Navajo, and then
in that sense, like certain Navajo songs and prayers, when you do the
song or a prayer for a patient, sometimes you leave certain lines
out, or you add more depending on the condition of the patient, so I guess
that sense of storytelling is still there even in contemporary poetry, like some
of the songs or some things I do here, I either add or delete depending on
where I’m at and what’s going on, and I know I get not criticized, but
critiqued by Tony Webster saying, (laughs), ‘when he did a reading over
here, he added this, and when he did another reading over here,
he deleted it’, and I said, hmmm, interesting, but the whole idea is
you know, poetry, stories, they’re alive, so when you do the reading, or when
you tell the stories, they themselves begin to change, and sometimes,
we don’t have control over them, because we believe that language
is alive, and it’s out there amongst you, now I’m listening to your hearts
and how things are with you, and so Navajo poets, although they
write in English but also when they begin to read, sometimes they add
extra in Navajo, and the other interesting for me, is one time we had
a Navajo language night in Santa Fe, at the Santa Fe Indian School, there’s
this young man, that I taught, I was sort of embarrassed, because
at the time, these Navajo young people were copying people in Chicago,
dressed in black, and saggy pants, and he was one of those, and I said,
oh my goodness, he’s going up there, it’s embarrassing, I wanted to leave the
room, but I decided no, I can’t do that, he’s a former student, and he’s obviously
related to you from Rock Point so bear with it, and he went up there, and
all these others were doing traditional songs or other wonderful stuff, and all
of a sudden, he turned this music on, this sort of rap, I think is what it was,
and he started rapping in Navajo, and he told his life story, and I mean
he brought me to tears with how he was using that language in contemporary
style and powerful story, and so the language itself, I think when we open
it and allow it to be used and express an honest expression in the
different forms without criticizing, saying there’s a bad way, I think more
and more of our young people will begin to use the language. When we
use text or Facebook more and more now because young people are
beginning to post things in Navajo, because I think that’s at least a
cool thing to do, to show the rest of the world how I write Navajo,
and the kind of exchanges that they’re having, it’s amazing, so I
think if we do that and allow our young people to express themselves
in different ways, then more and more will write in native languages. I’m also
with a group called Stories Walking: Reclaiming Rhetorical Sovereignty,
we go from different communities, indigenous communities and work
with young people to encourage them to write in their own languages, so there
are poets out there, writers out there.>>Hi, thank you so much for your
reading, some of the poems were really moving. I’m actually Tony’s
student, so from his anecdotes I know not to ask you what a poem means,
but I was wondering if you could talk about what inspired you to write
the poem, or the one about spring? That was very interesting to me.
>>Spring?>>Yeah. I think that’s what
it was called.>>Mhmm. When we’re in public space, we tend
to put our better foot forward first, and we tend to talk about what’s
decent in our culture, and sort of like looking at someone, GQ Magazine,
but we know that when you close the door, there’s all these things
going on, and so I know a lot of young people that go out —
and so in Navajo, we have this great philosophy, this grand philosophy,
(speaking in Navajo/Diné), beauty, wellness, harmony, and a lot of
people talk about these issues, but for me, it’s like, that’s true, but
how many of us actually practice it? We don’t. No, others take your places
with disregard them. What I’m talking about is real, it was out there, I think
they painted over it since then, they probably said, ‘we don’t want him
to see it again’, (laughs), and so we talk about respect for women, we talk
about respect for the Earth, we address her as Mother, we talk about
a lot of different things in terms of being a female and having a high
regard for them, but yet in reality, what are we doing? We’re destroying
them, and so as a poet and as a writer, as an artist, we need to tell
people, excuse my language, that’s a bunch of bullshit, this is the
reality. Take a look at it, and sometimes when I read this Navajos chuckle,
those young people, and so when the girls, sometimes they chuckle too,
and I say, ‘excuse me, ma’am, why are you laughing at this? Do you think
women should be depicted on these barrels with their legs spread? With some
of your relative’s names on it?’ And I say to the guys, ‘what about you?
Why are you laughing? That could be your own mother, or your sister,’
and so I think that sometimes we have to use our work to address some of
these critical problems, to bring to the forefront, especially if you’re talking
about honest expression, you can’t cover it up, and the whole point is not
to say Navajos have nasty minds, or they’re doing this to one another,
but to teach them to think critically and creatively about these
issues, so that they don’t pass it on. And sometimes, parents might say,
‘oh, young people are like this young,’ I said, ‘excuse me, they’re your children.
Who do you think raised these kids? You. How are you talking to your kids
and how are you raising your kids that they’re doing these things?’, and so
I guess, I don’t know if that’s called inspiration or lashing out or something
like that (laughs), but the point is, I think we need art in all it’s forms
to critique, to offer comments on our society, and to me, Spring,
it’s a spring out of nowhere, but yet, sustain life. It also brings
out the (speaking in Navajo/Diné), is actually the gushing out of water,
so even though that’s not what the place is, but through language
we hope that there’s water. That’s just but one poem I have,
I have a lot of other poems like that, different things. Next?>>I thank you for these events, like actually praying, and I was
wondering if you can tell us about your experience in writing in two
languages, because you translate by resolving your text, right, or if
somebody else (laughs), does that, and then if you also write in both
languages, because you write some texts only in Navajo, and then you
write also some in English, and I was wondering if those texts – I mean,
those in Navajo, I believe those were created in Navajo originally, but did
you do like the other way around, to write it in English and translate
it into Navajo and then if you do so, what’s like the essence of the poem
in that case? Do you feel like you keep like what you wanna say in English
into Navajo and vice versa? I mean you mentioned, like the one
you read in Navajo, you couldn’t translate it in English because of
the sounds and decibels. I mean maybe Tony can tell us
more about you know, like these speech played at… I know a bit
about what Tony writes so there are some like (inaudible) in these sounds
but in those that you write in English and then you translate into Navajo,
what’s like the essence or what do you think about?>>It is hard to translate. Like this tri-lingual edition, I really didn’t work that hard.
It was sort of they asked me to submit some poems, said submitted
in Navajo but then they say, do it a rough translation. So that’s
what I did. And I didn’t know they will turn into a book like this.
Otherwise I would have worked a little bit extra hard on the
translations. The next thing I know, it came out in a book
and that’s why when I read the ones in English, sometimes
I changed the words too. But I write mostly in Navajo. And when I, if they are written
in Navajo, I guess I wasn’t that frightening, that mindset.
(speaking in Navajo/Diné) I was thinking about things in
Navajo and start writing out of that. Then it switched into Navajo.
If I am thinking about something or looking at something, experiencing
something in English, then I write in English. So it depends on
the language. (speaking in Navajo/Diné) So depending on the language,
where you are at, who you are with, and whatever language you are
in that mode, you start writing out of that. That’s what it comes out.
But lately, the poem (Navajo) go back and forth in three languages.
Cause I want to take experiments say, “Umm, this sounds better in Spanish.
This sounds better in Navajo. This sounds better in English.”
So I want to start writing more like that. Thank you.
I studied Japanese so, but I haven’t speaking it well
lately so. But I am sort of relearning that and relate it
with some… Japanese in there as well. So we will see how it works but
it depends. It’s a lot of fun. The other thing too is if I do writing
in Navajo, then if I switch to English, you know the language and the words
have their own associations and their own histories and so on.
So all of a sudden you would try to translate something but
you end up with an entirely different poem. I said okay.
It’s no longer translation as a long poem but in order
for that to succeed as a separate poem then I need to switch back
into that. So then it becomes a different poem. And I try
not to translate my own words. I am horrible at translating so
we let people like Tony earn their pay for doing stuff
like that.>>Hi. Sorry. Thank you for
being with us today. This is a – for those of us
who are writers – a sort of request for mentorship disguised
as a question about method. I am very happy to see that you
carry as many notebooks with you as you do because I often times,
I am doubting whether or not I should be weighing myself
with as many things as I insist on carrying around with me. But I found that when I need to
put something down on paper, I am deciding by instinct as
to sort of gut instinct as to where to write it down or
where to put it down and I have no systematicity to it
despite the fact that it might appear otherwise due to my
variously colored books and I was wondering if you could
speak to why three notebooks where you write things down? When and how they reappear
again when you revisit them or what not?>>Why three notebooks?
(laugh) Oh there is more than three
notebooks. (laugh) I have several back at the house
too. It ended up in the room where I am staying at.
It’s sort of a habit. I always carry so many of
them. And sometimes I forget that I wrote something and later
on I would go back and flip through them and then I get back into it
and then add to it. Louis and I were going to the
lunch and like I said the poem I started off with,
I got these brochures and pamphlets on this group.
And during lunch I asked him about his own Mapuche language.
And he said, well, now many people are beginning to forget because because the Catholic priests
they were saying, you need to stop using that language because
you need to speak the language of God. God’s language I guess
Spanish they said. But Jesus spoke Aramaic. She tell him that.
Not Spanish. So in the little notebook I have with me. Therefore when I
go back to my room, I wrote it down and says, Jesus spoke Aramaic.
And so there will be a whole poem idea that will begin to come out
of that. So I carry a lot of notebooks with me and even those, sometimes
through small notepads – what do you called those? Post-its?
Cause you always have to write ideas and you have to
put them. Sometimes, I am reading a book and then I put
on a post-it and stick it in there somewhere. Maybe a couple
of years later I will open it and it’s there. Oh, I was supposed
to be writing. But what’s interesting is by
the time you re-encounter the note again, you have subconsciously
developed a certain whole concept around it and about it. It is sort of
amazing and I think it’s that element of surprise. To be surprised
by your own words or at least an idea we entertaining at one time.
That gives me, having different notebooks all over the place.
Cause then you get back to them. You know, I tried one time
just to carry one with me all the time. It just doesn’t work
for me. It doesn’t work. So I do have more than three
notebooks. I just like reading books. I am reading about
maybe 12 to 16 different books right now. Different places, different times.
So all of these are interesting ideas isn’t it? Something I encountered
at the books. You go back and you start reading. Then you forget
you read this book and you end up getting this book around and
just start reading it.>>Hello and thank you for
speaking today. My question is why do you write poetry?>>What’s poetry? (laugh) I had many reasons. One is as we were growing up,
we hear a lot of Navajo stories, Cayote stories, stories about
animals and people are just… The love of language, what you
can do with language in different ways you can put a story together.
Sometimes where young people, grandpa would tell a Cayote story and
they go, okay you are not retell it? So we tell it one way. Then my
brother tells it another way. And the nephew tells it another way.
So you could see the different ways of telling stories. And then
the others. When I was young, I spoke only Navajo until about
eight or nine years old. But before that, I was training
for becoming a medicine man. So I hang out with my grandpa
in these different ceremonies. And so I have heard a lot of
the songs and the prayers. And then I just like the way
the elders spoke to one another so eloquent, the use of language
in a way that you don’t hear out there. Everyday language.
Medicine people speak to one another in different
ways. Just that about fascinating, the way they tell stories and
so I sort of start playing around with words. How to… that’s one. And then normally people also
asked why writing, poetry writing? I have an essay on writing
and it challenges the western notions of writing, especially (indistinct)
what we call the Anglo-Saxons white. So you are not even using
your own alphabet. This is Roman alphabet. Tell me that we don’t
know how to write. Doesn’t know the sand paintings, the body paintings,
the writings, the paintings on the prayer sticks, to me all of these
are forms of writing. And all of those forms of writing are used for healing, to retell the stories on the bodies,
the stories of the gods, on the bodies of people,
on the Earth and allow them to heal through that. So for me,
writing has always been a source of healing a spiritual well-being.
And so a lot of my writing continues to be that. Whether it is social
issue like spring but it’s trying to be done in way where it allows
people to not only think and reflect critically but at the same time,
allow them to heal through the language. So I guess, I write
poetry. It’s an exciting way to use language to help stories
that heal.>>Thank you very much for
showing all these, this afternoon with us. I’d like to ask you
what do you think about the political relevance of poetry
and language nowadays?>>Can you repeat that one more time?>>What do you think how we work
on the political aspect of poetry and language nowadays?>>I am not sure if I understand
your…>>Probably what I am trying to
say is that poetry and language together can have a strong aspect of
a political intervention also. So if you could tell us a little bit
how you think about your work if you think about your work in
that area I’d like to know.>>Poetry, language and politics.
(laugh) Well, I don’t know anything about politics. (laugh) Earlier, we have a little meeting
in that corner. We share some poems. I was asked about… being an activist and how we use
our work and I said, I don’t think of my work as
an activist still. In that sense, I said, to me, it’s a celebration
of language, celebration of life. But I think…when I write in Navajo,
publishing in Navajo, when I do things in Navajo, it is a celebration
of life. But the same time, it is like ignoring the rest of America.
I don’t care about you. So I guess in that sense it’s political
and resistance and activist is on the way. But I don’t happen to be necessarily… (no audio) That’s one but I do have poems and
stories and we do write plays on politics and how… Like I have poems about Arizona passing English-only laws,
what does it to people. I am writing a poem now about
Trump and the wall and… you know about the no to
the Dakota pipeline. NoDAPL. N-O-D-A-P-L.
So I have a poem beginning on that that says something looking at
the first letter of each one that says “dump all pollution lastingly.”
And if there is such a word as lastingly. I don’t care. I am a poet.
I have the license to change language. And one time I had a poem that
talks about the long walk. This is in Navajo.
We coming back by because they are so tired, he would leave the babies
behind on the brushes and when they look back, they will see
crows attacking the babies. So I talk about that and
along that I strided into Arizona. Of course Arizona
wasn’t a state then but at the same time when I use a word like “I
strided,” people say it’s strode. So I don’t care. So in that sense,
then you use language to I guess to violate what people would
consider “normal” English because when they teach you to speak
formal English, it’s their sense of control. You no longer accessing
what you truly feeling so. You do things like that with language
to be I guess active? Be an activist. You use your own language to
change that language to begin to push back at their, what their
sense is reality. So poetry, language and politics I guess,
plays together in many ways.>>If there is one more question,
and then we will return and have him sign some books.>>Hi good afternoon. Thank you
again. I am not quite sure how to phrase this question. You had mentioned
previously that the difficulty in translating Navajo sometimes isn’t
a matter of the context or the content of it but the sound. Being a medicine
man, when you sing or speak the sacred text, the rhythm or
the beat in which you deliver that text – is there a deeper meaning
to that and if so, when the younger generation, when they are utilizing
Navajo in the native form but to the beat or the rhythm of say,
the contemporary hip-pop music, is there a loss of deeper meaning
in that?>>I’d like to believe that because
language is alive in its own way. That it has the capacity to move with
all forms of expression, that cultures evolve, the human
mind evolves. The human spirit evolves. And so, at the core
and in essence, one example I use is, if you, it’s like going to
the depth of the earth, the core is all molten and lava and all that.
But the surface is very different. So if you are able to get to that
core of the earth, you can surface anywhere and still be at the heart
of earth. To be the heart. So language I think is like that.
Like I started earlier, the more distinctly Navajo I become,
at least in my thinking, I realize the more people respond
to that because I get to the core of humanity. So to me, language
is like that. So the different forms of expression, language responds
to the different heartbeats but it is still the same and so I don’t
think that strength and power of language gets lost if it’s in
hip-pop or Navajo tradition. It’s just a matter of who is
doing what. That’s a hard question I say.
It’s really hard to explain. I heard somewhere that when
Navajo sing, I guess when you sing the rhythm all of that, they put it
on a bar that goes like this. So Navajo sing is a little bit,
you can draw the outline of the landscape. The mountain
and… Whereas if he do in New York city, it’s like. (laugh)
So I guess there is a certain rhythm there that changes. But this is a hard question. But like
I said, I try to be as open as possible. I mean it’s nice to try to save
language in a certain way and I think when you begin to do
that you begin to buy into this notion of romanticism, idealism. You begin
to become judgmental and begin to deny honest expressions of younger
people, fitting to the contemporary world and so. But I think there is
room for both. Thank you.
(applause)

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