Poets Share the Truth of Their Words

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.




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