A Brave New World By Jake Skeets

A Brave New World

By Jake Skeets

June 30, 2021

I am attempting to map, measure, and quantify American poetics through this essay. I am attempting to somehow chart out a future for American poetry through this essay. However, I’m finding that these poetics remain unquantifiable under the current structures within which an American poetry rests. Sure, I can label things experimental or lyric. I can call a line break a line break or a stanza a stanza. But through this essay, I am attempting to map a poetics that is closer and more accessible to me as a poet. My approach to poetry comes from a long lineage of poets who have attempted poem-cartography within the American southwest. It also comes from several generations of Diné storytellers and poets. I have found that much of my work has been a way to reconcile these two ancestries and geographies. I then wondered, what is the Diné word for stanza?

It’s commonly known that stanza means a room or stopping place. So within a Diné context, I think stanza would be something similar to words like shighan, my home, or hooghan, a home. But, of course, after asking my partner (as I usually do), I expected him to answer, “It depends on how you use it.” That is his usual response. I have found, after trying out Diné more and more within my poetry, that Diné is a verb-based language not solely in the sense of movement. Yes, it is movement and circuitry but it verbs in another manner. Diné language requires consideration of space, perspective, and time. Someone, a couple of people, or three or more people need to be perceiving the room in time and space in order to properly translate that room into English. The picture would need to be complete as there is never just a room; it can’t be quantified as just a room. It’s a room only in relation to everything and everyone else around it. The room exists beyond language. Our physical space and reality exist beyond language. This time, however, he mentioned a room could mean da’njah góne’, where people sleep. This is actually closer to bedroom rather than room. Does stanza mean a particular room? I wonder now if stanza is actually the right word for the stanza. Perhaps it needs to be more specific; it needs to consider space, perspective, and time. If we reimagine poetry through the lenses of Indigenous epistemologies, what happens? What changes? What English words become empty and what concepts become more whole? Reimagining American poetry through Indigenous stewardship encompasses a very brave new world and I’m excited that In-Na-Po, Indigenous Nations’ Poetry is now rising to meet this new opportunity in this new world. I guess I am introducing the world to In-Na-Po through this essay.

I must disclaim however that I am not attempting to speak on behalf of or for poets from Indigenous Nations. Within a settler readership, one wondering anything while centering Indigenous epistemology can be read as wondering for the entirety of Indigenous Nationhood. In this essay, rather, I am wondering out loud the way American poetry blends and ricochets off my own understanding of poetry, one highly informed by a Diné way of knowing. I’m sure poets associated with In-Na-Po and those who will make use of the resources in the future will have different thoughts and ponderings about the nature of poetry in relation to their own approaches to language. I believe that all are welcome and necessary as we begin to map out the future of American poetry. Thus, we enter this brave new world with what is hopefully a sunset on a global pandemic. I hope that this new world is actually new and ignores the failures of our pre-pandemic society. I haven’t seen that happen, however. Even within the poetry world.

In-Na-Po, Indigenous Nations’ Poetry, is just rising from the horizon on this new day at the right time and place. Indigenous people have long been stewards of our worlds and have shown time and again the power language has in creating and sustaining those worlds. Of course, this is all just thoughts on a page. I don’t want to have some claim over the direction of poetry because it moves beyond any quantifiability. But I think it makes sense for conversations within futures of American poetry to learn from conversations around Indigenous movements, like those around Land Back and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women. Perhaps, Indigenous poets ought to be offered space to steward a part of these futures. I am often in absolute wonder about the way Indigenous peoples navigated and measured the universe with a keen and precise vision. And, of course, it was storytelling that often greased the wheels of survival. The survival of Native people is a product of storytelling because it’s a very powerful technology.

In that regard, I see this In-Na-Po blog as a space for storytelling and pondering and thought-making and open exploration. I hope it practices kinship, reciprocity, and a sense of belonging for all Indigenous poets. After all, we exist in physical spaces that are beyond language. I think it’s time we begin to language these spaces into our understanding of reality: as part of an ever-blooming universe. And hopefully, we can begin to spark a new way to imagine our relationship with that universe. And as we all begin to openly discuss and imagine and reimagine our place, we can chip away at the dominant narrative of linearity, consumption, and profit that has foregrounded many of the injustices we experience today. It truly is a coalition devoted to poetry that can begin to enact necessary changes in worldview and action. I am honored to be part of In-Na-Po and part of the poetry community around the country and world dedicated to the revolt, dedicated to the self, dedicated to kinship, and dedicated to language.

Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets

Jake Skeets is the author of Eyes Bottle Dark with a Mouthful of Flowers, winner of the National Poetry Series. He is the recipient of a 92Y Discovery Poetry Prize, a Mellon Projecting All Voices Fellowship, an American Book Award, and a Whiting Award. He is from the Navajo Nation and teaches at Diné College.