Do Feelings Speak Louder Than Words?


Natalie Diaz

The sum of my failed attempts at writing stories is far greater than my number of years on this earth. But I assure you, it’s not for lack of trying. I’ve certainly felt moved to write stories on various occasions—happy, tragic, confusing, exciting—only to find that I eventually lose my focus. I’ve had an extremely difficult time figuring out the science, embarking on writing a short story only to find that my idea is much more extensive than the allotted number of pages, or deciding to write a longer story and losing momentum early on. I seem to be more successful with poems. When I imagine the beginning of a poem, I am usually able to envision the ending as well. For this reason, poems are an easier way for me to express emotions, an easier way to encapsulate a feeling without trying to represent it through the lens of a plot. When I read, I am searching for something raw. More often than not, I am able to find this in poems and better able to recreate it through poetry.

Last fall, I was introduced to Natalie Diaz, a Native American poet of the Mojave and Pima tribes. I fell in love with her poetry. Apart from writing beautifully, Natalie Diaz is honest and reflective, using words as vehicles to express the emotions generated by her traumatic experiences. Her book When My Brother Was an Aztec is a collection of poems centrally focused on her relationship with her brother, a drug addict, as well as her family’s struggle with poverty. Rather than telling the story of her brother’s addiction through one specific narrative voice, Diaz writes poems that simulate photographs, capturing moments that have made an impression on her. When I read her poetry, I feel like I’m reading the pages of her diary.

In “How to Go to Dinner with a Brother on Drugs,” Diaz describes taking her brother out to dinner, an event that is really more of a complicated process than a recreational activity.  The tenth stanza reads: “Not long ago,/your brother lived with you./You called it, One last shot, a three-quarter-court/heave, a buzzer-beater to win something of him back./But who were you kidding? You took him in/with no grand dreams of salvation, but only to ease/the guilt of never having tried.” The last two lines of the stanza are so poignant. I’m struck by Diaz’s honesty, her admission that she “took him in” to relieve her own guilt rather than try to save him. I admire the clarity of her confession more than a stanza full of beautiful metaphors.

Diaz’s reasoning for taking her brother in, while expressed simply, is complexly human. It captures her internal moral struggle as well as an articulate sense of herself. Am I on to something here? Do you agree that the best poetry directly addresses emotions, or does it use metaphor to depict them? Do you prefer poems that maintain elusive representations of emotions and focus on language? No matter your preference, I encourage you all to explore Natalie Diaz’s poetry. She’s sure not to disappoint!

About Laura Berry

Laura Berry is a senior English major and Poverty Studies minor at Washington and Lee. She is from Madison County, VA, where she spends most of her time with her dog, Russ.

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2 Responses to Do Feelings Speak Louder Than Words?

  1. Amanda Newton says:

    I often have trouble deciphering poetry that is drenched in metaphor. With less context clues than longer works, the author’s intentions are harder to decipher. That being said, I think my vision of successful poetry is one that engenders a sense of meaning to the reader regardless of the author’s intended feeling. I’m familiar with Chicano/Chicana literature, but not with Natalie Diaz in particular. I’ll be interested to see whether or not her poems hold meaning for me despite our differences in background.

  2. Rod Smith says:

    I always hope that the visceral texture of a poem (which may be sound as much as anything else) will help me grasp the emotional aspects and that the two will lead me to some viable (though tentative) intellectual engagement. Then the three begin to feed each other. Background may, in the end, be less important than where the imagination is willing and equipped to go. That some poems remain, after long study, puzzles does not mean that we can feel them. As one of the Avett brothers says, you don’t have to be a boy from N C to understand bluegrass. The point here is that what we mean when we say “I get it” isn’t academic or even cerebral. It may be translated as, “This is a little confusing to me, but I know I need it.”
    When reading poems, as when writing them, if there’s no wind, row. Hard. End of sermon.

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