Nestled in Cheryl Wolfe’s class on a Tuesday evening are the gifted and talented students of “Interpretation and Improvisation.” They meet every week to write and read poetry.
On Nov. 28, the students discussed the New Mexico English Expo and engaged in a poetry exercise.
Wolfe, English teacher at Navajo Preparatory School, hosts the group and provides support in their poetry. Each meeting, a prompt that was assigned by President Alexis Westbrook is completed. Wolfe said in an e-mail that Westbrook, at four years, is the longest-standing member in the group.
That night, students shared poetry receiving reassuring finger snaps and verbal support from Wolfe.
“We don’t censor here,” Wolfe said.
The group ended the night with an exercise that would require them to take on a literary device and pass around their papers, adding a line resulting in a poem.
Vol. 1, Issue 1 was officially sent to printers last fall, and published this year. It featured works in the Diné, Hawaiian, Cree and Spanish language with some intertwined with English.
The zine was made possible through grants provided by the Poetry Foundation and Navajo Transitional Energy Co., Venaya Yazzie, honorary board member of the Northwest New Mexico Arts Council.
The program was set up like a residency. Yazzie said students at Prep wrote one poem, which was then workshopped. The native language of student’s would then be integrated into their poems, she said.
Students were also responsible for their own artwork that went alongside their poetry.
Inside Wolfe’s classroom there are copies of the book, “The Diné Reader: An Anthology of Navajo Literature.”
Yazzie’s work is featured in the book, which teachers can use it in their curriculum. The book provides literature with themes that teachers can reference, she said.
For Yazzie, the first issue was not hard to compile as the students at Navajo Prep were hard workers and talented.
Wolfe said Yazzie mentioned the second issue might be expanded in featuring more students from different schools.
The group has members of all grades and tribal affiliations. Tri-City Record sat down with the student poets for their perspective on creative writing and the zine.
For Landon Succo, the songs in the Diné culture are poetry.
“One of the songs, they talk about how the horned toad gave armor to one of the twin heroes to fight this monster, so there’s a whole song about it describing each and every action,” he said “There’s going to be repetition, there’s going to be some type of rhyming within that melody.”
Lily Williams saw poetry in the new metal scene growing up in Gallup. Williams said she began writing her own songs and poetry after attending an Otep concert.
Rance Wartz said he uses poetry as a tool to express emotions and connect ideas together.
“To me, poetry is my identity,” Lilliona Benally said.
Benally started writing after being inspired from a friend. They would use their words between each other to connect.
She grew up in a household that spoke Navajo, Lakota, Anishinaabe and Spanish, creating a complex relationship with her identity.
“Do I even deserve to speak this language,” she said.
Being at Navajo Prep, she’s felt supported in her identity and her personal creative writing.
Ember Bahe said writing poetry in Diné helps her keep in tune with her culture.
“It comes off very strongly, and I feel very passionate and I feel that spark within me,” she said.
Wartz said the work of his peers and their perspectives makes him feel safe.
Crystal Tsosie said she’s excited to have her work published in hopes to inspire others as her sister did who was featured in the first issue of the zine.
The idea of having her work out there to pass down and gaining knowledge on the publishing process is what excites Nazbah Billy.
“I see all the things they are capable of, and I just want the world to see what they’re capable of,” Wolfe said.