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When My Brother Was an Aztec

4.44 of 5 stars 4.44  ·  rating details  ·  354 ratings  ·  40 reviews
"I write "hungry" sentences," Natalie Diaz once explained in an interview, "because they want more and more lyricism and imagery to satisfy them." This debut collection is a fast-paced tour of Mojave life and family narrative: A sister fights for or against a brother on meth, and everyone from Antigone, Houdini, Huitzilopochtli, and Jesus is invoked and invited to hash it ...more
ebook, 124 pages
Published December 4th 2012 by Copper Canyon Press (first published April 10th 2012)
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Whew. The confidence in this poetry collection is impressive. The work here takes on race and identity and poverty and popular culture. There is also a lot of interesting commentary on the body, how it bleeds, how it fails, how it endures. A truly striking collection.
Natalie Diaz, Conjurer

Poetry as turgid with metaphors, as disturbing, raw, and, a veces, humorous and sly and naughty doesn't happen often, but in this collection WHEN MY BROTHER WAS AN AZTEC Natalie Diaz manages to travel this bumpy terrain with such a sure hand that the result is staggering. Perhaps a part of the intensity of her writing is that as a woman born and raised on an Indian Reservation - and that, without parody intended, is why she writes like a necromancer, an augurer, a sorceress
There were a fair number of poems in here I liked a lot. And there were some that didn't do so much for me. Generally, I liked the ones about the history of conflict between American Indians and European settlers [and how her own experiences growing up reflected that conflict], about women, about desire/sex, and about her brother going to war.

I didn’t so much like the ones about the eponymous brother and his meth habit. Which is maybe because some drug usage is sort of squicky to me, but also, I
Nancy Boutilier
"When My Brother Was an Aztec" is a powerful collection from an emerging poet you'll be hearing of get ahead of the curve and be the one talking about it...

Fierce and fragile is the world created in Natalie Diaz's debut collection. The poems chronicles the challenges, heartbreak, hunger(s) and means of survival growing up on the reservation. Varied in form (ballads, pantoum, abecedarian...) and consistently strong, these poems explore hunger and history, weakness and courage, in both
This is one of the most exciting poetry collections I've read in a long time. The brutal honesty of these poems is what gets me. There are so many surprises. I found the poems concerning the brother and his relation to the family to be the most powerful/painful. I'll be reading this collection over and over.
Andrea Beltran
I have only three words: READ THIS BOOK.
When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz, published by Copper Canyon Press and ordered for me by my local bookstore Novel Places, is a culture clash of Native Americans integrating into mainstream society and the struggles the children of these family have reconciling their home lives with the differences they find at school and among their new childhood friends and society. The narrator battles with her mother about why she cannot have a sandwich like the white kids rather than raisins, and ...more
First reviewed on

"A lot of the images that I’ve grown up with, that’s kind of how I filter the world, through those images, and images carry meaning for me. A lot of the words I use – that’s the way we talk here [Fort Mohave Indian Reservation], that’s the way I’ve learned to express myself or at lest to try to express myself.”

Hearing these words from Natalie Diaz, author of When My Brother Was an Aztec, in aninterview on public radio,immediately caught m
What a spectacular collection of poems. Her poems about her brother (in particular) and his problems and its effects upon the family caused me to gape in wonder and cry out loud while reading some of the lines. I was so blessed to hear the author read some of these poems the other night at KGB (Friday night). Wow. Her use of language is truly spectacular. I’m going to return to these poems again and again and again. I also want to share them with people who will want to see what is happening in ...more
B. Rule
Some of the poems in this collection are incredible. The language is sinuous and vibrant, evocative of the colors, smells, tastes, pleasures and pains of life on the Mohave reservation. Of particular note is the title poem, which starts the collection with a bang. I thought most of the poems on her brother and his drug addictions were truly powerful stuff and the best of the bunch. Diaz crafts metaphors that are striking, vibrant, often quite funny, and also achingly sad in their empathy for the ...more
If I could give this collection 4.5 stars, I would. It was excellent. Diaz's claim that she writes "hungry sentences" is absolutely true and the quotable lines and phrases in this book are too numerous to list here.

What connects these poems stylistically is Diaz's lyricism and willingness to use language in an intuitive magic way. While content-wise, many of the poems regard Diaz's brother's meth-addiction and her family's life on the reservation, they really contain the whole world in a Whitma
Gerry LaFemina
This is a strong book but often dense, and often it feels like Diaz experiments with form--particularly early on--at the risk of emotional vibrancy. The book makes me feel more later on, and really, I think, at 108 pages, the book can be ten pages shorter, tighter and so much more powerful because its best poems are top notch.
Amanda Moore
This is one of my favorite poetry books of late--raw and melodic, haunting and penetrating.
A gorgeous, visceral, kinetic collection of poems. Fantastic.
I think it would be easy to zero in on Diaz's poems about her drug addict brother--these are pretty visceral, and I feel I came away from those poems knowing volumes more about living in that kind of world. But for me, the true test for any poetry collection is very simple: after spending several months reading a few poems from a book every week until I've read them all, can I still really remember any of them? If there's even one of those poems, that sets the collection apart.

And there is one
Gabriel Oak
Really wonderful first book of poems, including a series centered on life on the Mojave Reservation in Arizona, and a series about the poet's brother's meth addiction and its effects on her family. That second series is pretty heartbreaking. I was interested in the intersections between Native and Chicano identities in the book. In fact, I had assumed from a single poem and the author's name that the poet was Chicana, only to be surprised that she identifies as Native.
Anyone who is familiar with the ups, downs and excruciating pain of addiction will love this book. I appreciated Ms. Diaz's honest and in-your-face voice, as well as her humor. Sometimes the only way to get through something difficult is to collapse in a heap laughing, which is what I did reading her Barbie poem.

Also love the way she addresses race and the particular way she deflates the notions of romantic Native American stereotypes.

Waiting for her next book!!
I was introduced to Diaz's work when a friend told me that if Natalie Diaz if is performing within 500 miles of her, she goes. Since there was a reading less than 500 miles away, we went. Now I'll add my voice to the recommendation and say if you have the opportunity to hear her live GO.
Her poetry has a style that is both eloquent and raw, and occasionally awesomely funny. Anyone with addicts in their life will resonate with the work she has about her family's struggles with her brother's meth
Rita Reese
I read a poem from this book in the Pushcart anthology with my students in an online class called "Creative Writing for People with Day Jobs." I thought it was one of the most powerful poems in the anthology so was glad to find Diaz had a collection out. It's a very strong collection, if perhaps a bit uneven. One of my favorites in the book is "Why I Hate Raisins," which has an excellent turn at the end.
Thai Son
For some reason I could not get into much of this read. Regardless, many good things could be said of this book, its rawness, its imagery, its evocative form, and the honesty in which she portrays the things she observed. I just happen to not have a lot of common ground with her, with how she views many things - but that is probably the laziest excuse every privileged person could say.

Spellbinding, meaty, frightening and beautiful. This first collection feels like it carries the weight of a life, illuminated and abiding. Diaz' poems do not spare us the bright stains of life's wounds, but they do not sink into despair. Rather, these are poems born of the magical and majestic art of healing. Highly recommended.
This book of poetry is powerful and compelling. Natalie Diaz' book is divided into three parts: the first and the second were the strongest, in my opinion. In the first, she paints a picture of growing up Native American on a reservation, and the imagery is astounding. The second part, seemingly autobiographical, is about the lives of family members when one member suffers from addiction. This part alone is worth the read. The dark, painful, and illuminating imagery will break your heart... and ...more
Tom Emanuel
Natalie Diaz has a very distinctive poetic voice, and she's at her strongest when she's writing in it, and not conforming to the post-structural (dare I say pretentious) conventions of so much modern poetry. That voice comes through most clearly in the first third of this collection, when she's savagely, sardonically interrogating her Native American (Mojave and Pima specifically) heritage and history, and her and her people's relationship to the dominant White American culture. But the whole co ...more
Michael Thorbjørn Feehly
Absolutely brilliant from start to finish. The kind of poetry that reminds you viscerally that (no, it's not just you) most other poetry fails to measure up.
Brilliant, important, culturally aware poetry.
Jessica Cuello
Best book of poetry I read this year.
i. fucking. love. this.
Patti K
This debut collection of poetry is by Diaz, who is a Mojave Indian from California. She
actively works with Elders to help record and save the native language. She is a powerful
and passionate writer. Many of the poems deal with her brother who is a meth addict and his
many travails. How her family does and does not cope with his addiction is also portrayed.
Many poems are fiercely described praise poems of intimacy as well as poems of resistance.
Her language pours forth like a fiery warrior's chant
I kissed this book when I was done reading it. It is like a small, sweet thing that needs to be kissed goodnight. I know I will see it rise inside me in other moments of my life. Natalie Diaz signed my book. I heard her read some poems and wept. I shook her hand. For these reasons, the book is very personal to me. I felt the pain. I longed for the love. For these reasons the poems will stay with me.

So I kiss them goodnight as they kiss me good morning.
Ryan Mishap
Thinking this was a novel, I was surprised to find poetry. Now, I am certainly not qualified by training or experience to comment on the worth of any poem, but this collection has punch-in-the-gut power. The beauty is in the language and because of the struggles described; despite the pain.

You don't have to like poetry to read this--the poems tell stories, historical, autobiographical, personal, political, human.

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Natalie Diaz, a member of the Mojave and Pima Indian tribes, attended Old Dominion University on a full athletic scholarship. After playing professional basketball in Austria, Portugal, Spain, Sweden, and Turkey she returned to ODU for an MFA in writing. Her publications include Prairie Schooner, Iowa Review, Crab Orchard Review, among others. Her work was selected by Natasha Trethewey for Best Ne ...more
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