By Nancy Beauregard
“Poetry started out as an oral tradition. Before we wrote poems, we spoke them aloud,” said poet Joaquín Zihuatanejo at the Institute of American Indian Arts on Oct. 4, 2018. The poetry reading featured Zihuatanejo, an IAIA alumnus, and Natasha Carrizosa, both experts in spoken word poetry which is a mix of poetry and storytelling.
Zihuatanejo is a writer, poet, teacher and slam poetry artist. His poems and short stories are published in several reviews, journals, anthologies and featured on television. He was a Tin House Summer Workshop 2018 Scholar.
James Thomas Stevens, Akwesasne Mohawk, who was Zihuatanejo’s MFA mentor and professor introduced the pair at the IAIA library. Zihuatanejo stood up to speak and the room became quiet. He did not read from a book, but instead used the power of his voice to express his poetry.
In his poem, “Nova” Zihuatanejo transported his audience back to the day he was born, where they could feel his mother’s labor pains, feel the suction clearing an airway so a baby could breath, and sadly experience the heartbreak of a father taking off in a silver Chevy leaving behind a son on an “impossibly white” day.
Kamella Bird-Romero, Ohkay Owingeh, an undergraduate creative writing student, attended the event, and wanted to hear Zihuatanejo speak since he was a graduate of IAIA. She was impressed with his dedication to writing and how it comes from his heart.
“When he reads, it builds up from his toes and he lets it out through his shoulders,” said Bird-Romero.
Zihuatanejo spoke in English and sang songs in Spanish about what it was like growing up in the Chicano culture with a single mother and how the loss of his father and younger brother, who was given away at a young age, affected him.
In his poem “Archetypes” Zihuatanejo writes “I will tell you three things about my father and one will be a lie; my father left the year I was born; my father’s heart like mine and yours is made up of four chambers, but only three work well; my father’s left atrium broke the day he walked away from me.”
Zihuatanejo has two published books, “Arsonist” and “Fight or Flight” a collection of poems and short stories. His new book “Arsonist” is deeply rooted in family, relationships. He writes about life growing up in a barrio of Texas and the injustices he sees around him today.
“I’m a brown man living in a border state. Check this box if you’re this color,” said Zihuatanejo.
He is presently working on a third entitled “Occupy Whiteness.”
Zihuatanejo and Carrizosa both work for CoolSpeak a motivational, education company that gets high school students writing. They lead team workshops for young poets and help them to write scholarship and narrative essays.
Carrizosa is a spoken word artist, poet, mother, dreamer and storyteller. She celebrates life and her heritage, African-Mexican-American, in her poetry, prose and short stories. Carrizosa transported the audience in her poem “stretch out” to a two-bedroom apartment on fifth avenue where her mama opened her heart and home to abandoned children. She taught her daughter how to stretch: “stretch a pot of beans and rice. stretch that meat and potatoes. stretch them tortillas and refried beans. stretch them food stamps. so, my babies can eat.”
Carrizosa’s first book called “crown” is filled with rich images and stories of family, nature, spirituality and song. Her book was created when her publishers at CoolSpeak contacted her for a book she didn’t have. They insisted that she give them the title. Carrizosa thought of a past conversation with her mother about getting dreadlocks. At the time she had a halo of thick hair. “I want dreadlocks,” she told her mother. “What for?” she asked. “You already have a crown.”
Carrizosa has plans for at least four more in the future. She has created an open mic venue in Texas called Natty Roots and Rhyme where writers can freely express and create poetry and compete in slam poetry.
At the end of their reading, Zihuatanejo and Carrizosa answered questions from the audience. Carrizosa talked about revisions calling them “madness” while Zihuatanejo had a different way of viewing them, “I flip poems on their ass to see what happens,” he said.