Poetry for Your 2012 Holiday Shopping List

Savvy Holidays!

I’m sure all of you have either completed or have nearly completed your holiday shopping, but I wanted to recommend a couple of poetry books for the readers on your lists.  These books are accessible and could widen the scope of reading of your loved ones and maybe even yourself.

Wild Place by Erica Goss is a stunning chapbook collection that visually renders the wildness within ourselves through a series of images stick with you long after you read the verse.  One look at that cover can tell you the kind of raw power Goss uses in her poetry to explore how humanity can impair nature, but she also talks a little bit about history, particularly in her poems about Berlin, and the hardships of emigrating to another country.  In my review, I said, “Wild and untamed, the verse sings the beauty in the blame as humanity encroaches on nature, sometimes leading to its destruction and at other times unveiling the beauty beneath the scars.”


When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz examines the often ignored struggles of Native Americans in the modern world, particularly as they try to integrate into mainstream society.  The kids who are around white students in school are looking to be like their peers, while at home, their parents trying to hold onto their cultural traditions.  Diaz has a frankness in her verse as she not only tackles drug addiction, but also Native American myths and ancestry.  While these poems are steeped in culture, there also is a universality to the lines that make them accessible to people of all cultures.  I consider Diaz’s book “a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.”

Of the two Natasha Trethewey books I’ve read this year (though one was a reread), this is the one that has impressed me the most and has caused me to reassess some things.  Thrall is an even more mature combination of the personal and historical than Native Guard is.  While her earlier collection examines the struggles of a mixed race child, the latest collection builds upon those insights to create a wider historical record of mixed race children and how they are viewed by their parents and history.  My review indicated, “While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.”

I hope that you’ll consider these collections as you do your holiday shopping and have a great holiday, everyone.

164th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 164th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Natalie Diaz’s When My Brother Was an Aztec:

The Red Blues (page 11-13)

There is a dawn between my legs,
a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing
and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,
a phoenix preening
sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,
feathers flashing like flames
in a Semana Santa parade. 

There are bulls between my legs,
a torera
stabbing her banderillas,
snapping her cape, tippy-toes scraping
my mottled thighs, the crowd's throats open,
shining like new scars, cornadas glowing
from beneath hands and white handkerchiefs
bright as bandages.

There are car wrecks between my legs,
a mess of maroon Volkswagens,
a rusted bus abandoned in the Grand Canyon,
a gas tanker in flames,
an IHS van full of corned beef hash,
an open can of commodity beets
on this village's one main road, a stoplight
pulsing like a bullet hole, a police car
flickering like a new scab,
an ambulance driven by Custer,
another ambulance
for Custer.

There is a war between my legs,
'ahway nyavay, a wager, a fight, a losing
that cramps my fists, a battle on eroding banks
of muddy creeks, the stench of metal,
purple-gray clotting the air,
in the grass the bodies
dim, cracked pomegranates, stone fruit
this orchard stains
like a cemetery.

There is a martyr between my legs,
my personal San Sebastian
leaking reed arrows and sin, stubbornly sewing
a sacred red ribbon dress, ahvay chuchqer,
the carmine threads
pull the Colorado River, 'Aha Haviily, clay,
and creosotes from the skirt,
each wound a week,
a coral moon, a calendar, a begging
for a master, or a slave, for a god
in magic cochineal pants.

There are broken baskets between my legs,
cracked vases, terra-cotta crumbs,
crippled grandmothers with mahogany skins
whose ruby shoes throb on shelves in closets,
who teach me to vomit
this fucshia madness,
this scarlet smallpox blanket,
this sugar-riddled amputated robe,
these cursive curses scrawling down my calves,
this rotting strawberry field, swollen sunset, 
hemoglobin joke with no punch line,
this crimson garbage truck,
this bloody nose, splintered cherry tree, manzano,
this metis Mary's heart,
guitarra acerezada, red race mestiza, this cattle train, 
this hand-me-down adobe drum,
this slug in the mouth,
this 'av'unye 'ahwaatm, via roja dolorosa,
this dark hut, this mud house, this dirty bed,
this period of exile.

What do you think?

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press and ordered for me by my local bookstore Novel Places, is a culture clash of Native Americans integrating into mainstream society and the struggles the children of these family have reconciling their home lives with the differences they find at school and among their new childhood friends and society.  The narrator battles with her mother about why she cannot have a sandwich like the white kids rather than raisins, and insinuates that she’d rather be like the white kids.  By the same token, the narrator experiences first hand the bullying of the white kids in her neighborhood because of her ethnicity — a dichotomy that resurfaces throughout the collection.

“The Red Blues” (page 11-13) is a creative look at a young girl’s blossoming into womanhood, getting down to the gritty reality of menstruation.

There is a dawn between my legs,
a rising of mad rouge birds, overflowing
and crazy-mean, bronze-tailed hawks,
a phoenix preening
sharp-hot wings, pretty pecking procession,
feathers flashing like flames

Diaz is creative and surprising in her imagery and frankness.  She tackles stereotypes, truths, and the history of her ancestors.  From the takeover of their lands by the whites to the current marginalization of her people, Diaz calls attention to the underhanded and sometimes overt discrimination that takes place.  At the same time, she is careful to demonstrate how even Native Americans are plagued by similar struggles with drugs and fitting in that other cultures face.  But there are poems that no matter the ethnicity of the narrator, readers can see the internal and external struggles fought with a loved one who is addicted to drugs.  In “How to Go to Dinner With a Brother on Drugs” (page 46-51), the narrator walks a fine line between telling her brother the truth about his appearance and behavior and avoiding the inevitable fight that would ensue should the conversation be too frank.  The reader gets a glimpse of how manipulative and careful the narrator has to be to get the brother to change his clothes before heading out to dinner, etc.

Your brother will come back down again,
this time dressed as a Judas effigy.
I know, I know, he’ll joke. It’s not Easter. So what?
Be straight with him. Tell him the truth.
Tell him, Judas had a rope around his neck.
When he asks if an old lamp cord will do, just shrug.
He’ll go back upstairs, and you will be there,
close enough to the door to leave, but you won’t.
You will wait, unsure of what you are waiting for.”

But it is more than that, it is the struggle of waiting for a loved one to smarten up, to become all that they can be before your eyes and not fall back into the same patterns over and over. There is a sense of loyalty in these lines, but also a sense of hopelessness.  Diaz speaks of her own pain, the anguish of watching a brother addicted to drugs and the heartbreak of watching parents who love both children struggle to save one from himself and fail.  Each poem’s surface meaning is easy to discern, but upon another read through readers can easily see the emotional torrent of each line and image.  Each poem is layered with multiple images and emotions demonstrating the tumult that infuses familial relationships, particularly those conflicted by cultural clashes and drug addiction.

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz is a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.  Following a brief pause, readers will want to pass this book onto others to read and discuss.  As far as book club selections go, this would be a welcome addition as the language is easy to follow, the emotions are raw, and the themes covered are modern and relevant in today’s world.

About the Poet:

Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie SchoonerIowa ReviewCrab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best New Poets and she has received the Nimrod/Hardman Pablo Neruda Prize for Poetry. She lives in Surprise, Arizona.  Please check out this interview.

This is my 60th book for the New Authors Reading Challenge 2012.



This is the 19th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.


Mailbox Monday #187

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is Mrs. Q Book Addict.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Some Remarks by Neal Stephenson from William Morrow.

2.  And When She Was Good by Laura Lippman from William Morrow.

3.  When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, which I bought at Novel Places.

What did you receive?