He enters you, hide him, a silver dollar
beneath your pillow,
in a pawn shop, lodged in your throat. Your birthmark
will remind him of bruising, his father’s belt, broom,
branch across his face. He will see his past in the whirl
of your hair
as you go down on him. He sees a boy, afraid of the deep end,
drowning in the swimming pool of your throat.
He swears your eyes are chlorine
blue and black, both of you purple soot.
He says swallow but do not,
hold it as a secret
and kiss him
so he can know you know him
the way he can know him, a dark
moon rising from the pool water.
The lights ribboned on his cheek
as he comes up for air.
What does the title, “Emerging poet,” mean to you?
From what I understand, there are a lot of definitions. "Emerging Poet" is defined who has not published a book but others define it as a person has published a first book. It really creates tension between older and younger poets, and those with published books and those who have not published. I had this discussion with Joan Kane during my residency at the IAIA LOW-REZ MFA program. I had told her I was focusing just on first books because I wanted to perfect my first book. She told me the "first-book phenomena" is something that can get very tired. In regards to my work, she asked what then is down the line for the 2nd or 3rd book? That caught me by surprise because I never thought of life after the first book. My mentors have also broke down this notion of book publishing, my mentors spend years working on books while I know some writers who publish chap book after collection after chap book. There is no wrong way to emerge poetically and these types of definitions create the standard which can be harmful. Joan stressed focusing on craft and the project of my own manuscript. In my own theoretical world, I would define "emerging" as someone who is beginning to find a voice in their work and this could happen at any time. Granted this could be any poet today which I think is just fine. Why can't we all be emerging into poetry? It's what we all do anyway; emerge into poetics on the daily.
Do you consider yourself an “emerging” poet? Why or why not?
It's hard to even consider myself a "poet" sometimes, so I would definitely agree that I'm at least emerging into one. It's hard for me to find a footing in my own confidence to admit I'm a poet and that I write poetry. People don't do those things where I come from. So I would love to label myself an emerging poet and I hope to be an emerging poet at all times. I'm afraid if I become an "established poet" I'm going to have to deal with the constant burden of token Nativeness or queerness. I'm also very afraid that if I ever transcend "emerging" that people will praise any words I write even if it is bad writing. I want to feel the same ambivalent, raw, intimate, and thrilling feeling for poetry all the time.
What do you think it takes to be “recognized” in the poetry community?
You publish a first book. You go to residencies and conferences. Your featured on Academy of American Poets or Poetry Foundation. You do cool interviews like this one (thank you Luther). These are all things I have yet to do (aside from an interview) and so I don't see myself as recognized. But then again, being Native, being from a reservation, being someone who isn't heterosexual, there will always be a burden I have to carry if I do meet recognition. Or at least I imagine it so. I asked this question to my MFA mentors (Santee Frazier, Sherwin Bitsui, Joan Kane) about this recognition. I asked because our MFA program is so much different than others that my undergrad friends and classmates attended. I sometimes feel anxious that I am missing this key experience in learning how to be recognized. My mentors were always so quick to return to craft. Yes, they recognize the avenues of mainstream poetic recognition. But during our seven days in Santa Fe, perched in a small Native-centered institute, surrounded by mountains, several tribal homelands, and a pretty big sky, there is no time to worry about that. We are always on craft. Learning how to engage and emerge into poetics critically as Native writers while negotiating all the other colonial crap that Native people face is all we have time for and what is most important. So my definition of recognition is changing constantly.
How do you think power politics shape the poetry community?
Power deals with labor. Historically, labor is the key to growth. Manifest Destiny and the American Dream deal with labor. So poetry as profession is not seen as a dire need. It is not seen as labor. Because it is not seen as such, the poetry community is coded into these definitions like "emerging poet" to better organize resources. Poetry's association with teen drama or hobby or "roses are red, violets are blue" reduces its value in mainstream society. Poets have to write against all these affronts in order to reclaim poetry. Poetry is a different type of labor that deals with intimacy rather than power.
What does community mean to you?
You don't ask a Native person to define community, especially from the Navajo Nation. I could go one for hours telling you about the physical and cultural communities of my parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, and clan relations. Then I could talk about the colonial influence of Western versus Eastern Navajo, New Mexico Navajo versus Arizona Navajo, bordertown Navajo, checkerboard Navajo. Then I would also have to find a footing within the LGBTQQIA+ community which rattles me so much because I feel I still don't belong there. Then maybe discuss schools of poetics or poetic communities that have informed my work like L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poets or more recently Deep Image. I would find room for Diné poetics and Diné poets like Sherwin Bitsui and Luci Tapahonso (both related to me by clan which would go back to the physical and cultural communities). Then I would have to imagine my current communities on and off the reservation. Maybe even talk about how the people on the bus with me is a community or how my MFA poetry cohort is a community. So as simply as possible, I would define community as a place where you understand your place, practice goodwill and contribute in some capacity.
JAKE SKEETS (Diné) is from the Navajo Nation. He is pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing from the Institute of American Indian Arts. His work has appeared in Connotation Press: An Online Artifact, The Blueshift Journal, Word Riot, and elsewhere. He is the founding editor of Cloudthroat, an online publication of Indigenous Art and Poetics.