Before the actual poetry reading I had the opportunity to sit in class and listen to her speak. I am taking a poetry class and she came and talked to us about her artwork and poetry, then she allowed us to ask her some questions. It is fascinating to listen to an artist talk about their work. There is a lot of symbolism in the colors, style, and images that the artist uses that, as a viewer, I would easily miss. So getting the chance to actually sit and listen from the artist what they were trying to portray is immensely interesting.
In my understanding, she is from and still resides in Shiprock, New Mexico and so a lot of her work is inspired by there and other places around the Navajo Nation Reservation. She was the owner of a coffee shop in Shiprock called “Awee/Gowhee,” in Navajo both are two pronunciations of “coffee” based on dialect. A more extensive biography and artwork= click here. Her business was pretty amazing, they had art exhibits of her and other Native/Southwestern artists, primarily painters, that changed every month or so, games customers could play, Native/Southwestern books and artwork, and of course coffee and snacks. It was also the host of performances by musicians, poets, and writers.
She read a few of her poems, they are a flurry of imagery and she has begun experimenting with cadence as well. In class, she actually challenged us, students, to a poetry battle… I guess. No one stepped up, which was funny. I guess she will remain the standing champion of ENGL-222.
After she had read, the audience got to ask her questions. One of the most interesting to me was a student who asked Emerson how she knew when a work, painting or poetry, was finished. Her answer was basically that she never felt they were finished, even the poetry that had been published. I totally agree. I think that nothing I ever do is finished. Yes, I may have to turn an assignment in on a certain deadline, but I am always dissatisfied with the work when I turn it in. There are holes I see in it and areas that do not flow or convey what I want it to. But I have come to terms with letting go and knowing that it will forever be a work in progress, I can always fiddle with it when the teacher returns my stuff. This is probably the same for a publishing or art display deadline, just a technicality that causes something to be “finished.”
I liked that she was a passive learner of Navajo, which is what many of my generation are. It basically means that while some Navajo can be understood, the person cannot really speak it. It seems paradoxical but it is true. It is like listening to music. Someone may be able to understand the song and sing along to the chorus, but then later without music there is a difficulty in remembering the word order, the pitch, and that is the problem I have speaking Navajo. To have someone older than me understand the difficulty of learning and the challenge of speaking was a nice change, rather than listening to someone fluent lecture about how all Navajo’s should speak it. And she also is an advocate of preserving the Navajo language and she herself is still trying to learn. One of her goals was to write a poem entirely in Navajo.
It was great, I had fun..