Novelist and queer literature icon Ursula K. Le Guin stated that it is the duty of the writer to put into words that which cannot be put into words. A daunting task which turns many away from the path of the pen. But one Colorado native has taken it upon themselves to approach this monumental task, an enigmatic figure with a monosyllabic moniker and poet Laureate of Lafayette Colorado, Z. Like a mythical figure, Z has the bearings of someone who walks between multiple worlds. A self-described Two-spirit, and proud member of the First Nation community, when Z isn’t speaking out out for the rights of indigenous people or the LGBTQ community, they are tending to their duties as the sitting chieftain for the Balam Na.
Taking inspiration from Hip Hop culture and a rich history of poetry and song, Z’s poetry has an almost sacred quality to it, with meters and diction that reflect something akin to a chant. An invocation of the spirit of the righteously indignant. War-chants for the marchers, the rioters, and those who charge through city streets with fists raised high in spite of the teargas.
Their poems can range from moments of heart-wrenching beauty and soul-baring agonies to the sublime rage felt to a world ablaze. There is an intrinsic political nature to their poems, which speak truth to power in the tradition of the ancient skalds whose rhymes were said to mark the skins of unworthy rulers. Should the old legends hold true, then there may be a reason so many politicians have crews dedicated to makeup. We had the immense pleasure of sitting down with Z to talk about the nature of their work and the natural rhythm at which life facilitates art.
YS: Where do you get your inspiration?
Z: I get my inspirations from everything, I take attributes of a scientist I am curious about everything. I am motivated by my emotions and hip hop culture. My own culture plays a huge influence in my messages and perspectives. It’s the things that I see, the stories that I have been told and what I extrapolate from interactions. The beauty and shadows of this Earth, the hearts of amazing people, and the state of the world is what pushes my pen forward. The human experience and mind really perplexes me and I find myself constantly watching it and deriving theory and philosophies. And sometimes I just want to have fun with words that contain simple things or nothing at all. It’s just a state of me.
YS: How has your life affected your creations?
Z: My life is the blood of my poems, no matter how many times I reflect and put myself in other shoes I always come back to myself. I grew up in a struggle, a life in poverty where Santa was just a fictional character and all the presents just came from strangers. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was critical in cementing my ideals, which gave me a rebellious attitude especially with authority that carry out injustices. Being an artist with words was not looked at with favor but with shame, it wasn’t a “skill” to the working class. When you grow up not seeing yourself making it, then it has no place or value to your life. So when I started competing in poetry competitions I had to bring 200% more than everyone in the room, and every second on the stage I had to muster the heat from my own hell to that mic. And that consistency of pushing against the grain, trying to prove myself, has led to where I am now. That background is what gives breath to some of my most meaningful poems. Leading, impacting, and changing people in different ways throughout my time performing. And I feel very honored by that.
YS: Would you say your identity has influenced your art? If so, how?
Z: I would say who I am, a manifestation of chance and what my people have dreamt of, I say yes. My ancestors’ form of speaking comes across as backwards to English speakers. I find myself being “corrected” on my form of writing or speaking, with them not knowing it was done with explicit intention. Virtually every aspect of my culture is drastically different from the “White” or “European” version of America. As I have learned different things from my Maya culture, it has fed me an even wilder imagination and wonder. The Earth is my home. What we do has an effect and while we are not perfect, it is a duty to grow better not for yourself but for others. It has shaped my opinions as to what is truly important in this world. All of that has fingerprints in my work both written and spoken and nothing will change that.
YS: Who would you say is your greatest inspiration?
Z: I have spoken about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the words still stand true about his influence and inspirations that drove me to writing. I would like to speak about my mentor Maria Ramirez. She was my ESL teacher back in middle school and the person who introduced me to the world of poetry. Her dedication to her students and persistence to finding my voice in paper, was a lightning in the bottle moment for me. She could have just seen me as another child in the school system, worried about her paycheck, but she would drive me after school on her own time to show me the power of poetry. I still remember her presentation about her childhood as the daughter of an immigrant who would go into college as a mother and as a fighter of cancer. After all that she would go on to be recognized for her work as a teacher across the nation and have breakfast with the president. I owe a lot of my success to her faith and encouragement towards me. Her story is what cemented my choice into writing.
YS: What work are you most proud of?
Z: I would say I am most proud of my experiments that come from pushing my limits. Such as the three poems that won me competitions for three years a row. Each one of them was an intense session that would make or break my faith in my work. For some of my newer work, I would say Mango Juice, where I brought a fusion of all three of my cultures together. I also have some poems that I have not yet performed that I look forward to sharing.
YS: What kind of world do you want to show others with your art?
Z: I want to show my part of the universe, the kind of questions that ask the bigger questions out of genuine curiosity, the part of me that makes me just like every other person. I am not the type of person to stick to one thing or stay in one place. I am a voyager on this planet that sails among the cosmos. My expression is through poetry. My writing is my diary of what I have found, the notes of my thoughts, the shards of my own reflection, the fears that haunt me in the daylight. I desire to show a possible world that we can build together. My poetry could be a strain of hope that things will get better, and to show that one person that they are not alone. I hope to inspire the right people to take these words and do something bigger and amazing that no one else would have imagined.
Before leaving, Z provided us with some parting words. Words we hope will provide our readers with something to turn over in their minds like a polished river stone, something to stay in their pockets to bring home with them to contemplate on those quieter days.
To writers who share my love and passion for the art, I implore you to share it with your community. If you seek wisdom, take notes from the peoples advice. Listen to the songs of birds, the whispers of mountains, and take from the kindness that stand tall from trees. Maybe you’ll find something.