On Thursday afternoon, award-winning poets Natalie Diaz and Saretta Morgan joined a symposium for UT ecologists, activists and literature-lovers titled “Just Environments: Rivers and Waterways” as part of the UT Humanities Center Black Ecologies Week.
Diaz, who won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her book “Postcolonial Love Poem,” serves as a director for the Center for Imagination in the Borderlands and is the Maxine and Jonathan Marshall Chair in Modern and Contemporary Poetry at Arizona State University. She is also an enrolled member of the Gila River Indian Tribe where she finds great inspiration for her work.
Artist and creative writing instructor Saretta Morgan works to make a change through text, etching, sculpture and video to engage relationships between ecology, Black diaspora and migration in the American Southwest.
Both now living in Arizona, the pair shared their experiences as indigenous people living between Phoenix and Mohave Valley, Arizona.
The creators began filming themselves in environments sacred to who they are and what their existence means. This visual representation is a unique approach to delving deeper into the realms of poetry. The question of what it means to be present and visible plays a role in this artistic collaboration.
The water and sky act as main characters in the artists’ work as they believe the natural world holds the power to keep us alive. The ecologists expressed their concerns for how we treat the natural world and take advantage of it.
“It is important we learn that we are consequences of each other,” Diaz said. “Unfortunately reciprocity has become exchange, and there is no equality in reciprocity.”
The speakers emphasized that care is truly what matters and is at the root of this problem.
As Latinx and Black women, Diaz and Morgan often think about how we as Americans receive others onto our land. The speakers discussed women who have migrated to the U.S. due to conflict in their homeland. These movements are often motivated by discrepancies of access to water and land resources.
“It is just cruel that it is so easy to take a thing we know people must have to live,” Diaz said.
Having paternal family that are farmers in the panhandle of Florida, Morgan has noticed a distinct shift in relationships with land as economic and social influences progress.
“It’s interesting watching small Black farmers meet the challenge,” Morgan said. “Sustainability takes money and it is made impossible to take care of land properly.”
The connection of writing and experience play a powerful role in advocating and bringing attention to preservation and conservation. The poets agreed that bringing film into the mix was a new and exciting approach to heighten their messages.
“It truly has been a developmental moment,” Morgan said. “Creating the images is just so emotional and powerful.”
The filmmaker explained that her and Diaz’s ideas are often bigger than their capacities, which only makes their teachings and writing stronger.
Though they are both still learning, the artists have already moved so many people and inspired a sense of responsibility to our environment. As the speakers concluded their webinar, they made it a point to share their belief in the importance of sharing knowledge systems and that a difference is only made when practice takes place.