In honor of Native American Heritage Month, poet Tacey M. Atsitty, Diné, performed a poetry reading at the Student Writing and Reading Center at Salt Lake Community College’s Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
Atsitty, a Ph.D. student in the creative writing program at Florida State University, read poems from her 2018 debut book of poetry, “Rain Scald.” One reviewer argues Atsitty’s collection of poems encourages readers to “reconsider [their] understandings of language and land, repentance and revelation, sexuality and spirituality.”
The event began with a land acknowledgment video in which the audience heard from local Native American community members, including student leader Joey Du Shane-Navanick, spiritual advisor Virgil Johnson, and American Indian Student Leadership president Acaysha Jones.
Last November, SLCC unveiled land acknowledgment plaques with a formal statement that recognizes and respects Indigenous peoples as traditional stewards of the land.
Atsitty, who received bachelor’s degrees from Brigham Young University and the Institute of American Indian Arts, gave the crowd an overview of what her poetry is about before reading the first poem in “Rain Scald,” “Snake White, Owl White.”
“As I’m thinking about Native American Heritage Month, my poetry is a lot of my own personal experience and a lot of history specific to Utah,” Atsitty said.
This was felt in the thorough historical and personal context Atsitty provided in between each poem which ranged from explaining how Diné introduce themselves to the stories they tell.
“It tells you who we are and where we come from,” said Atsitty, explaining the importance to her people of introducing yourself with your four clan names: Your mother’s clan, your father’s clan, your maternal grandfather’s clan and your paternal grandfather’s clan.
The second poem Atsitty read, “Ach’íí’,” is partially about her father’s experience in the Indian Student Placement Program (ISPP), a program that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints ran from 1947-2000 that “took 50,000 native children from reservations and placed them in Mormon homes,” in efforts to convert them to their religion, according to RadioWest.
Atsitty wrote “Rain Scald” when she was a graduate student at Cornell University in New York, where she received a Master of Fine Arts in creative writing. She explained the second section of the book, Gorge Dweller, was partially inspired by tragic events that occurred while she attended Cornell — several mechanical engineer students jumped into a gorge on campus and killed themselves.
“There was one student one week, then two students the following week, so there was this overwhelmingly sense of sorrow and grief and darkness. With Gorge Dweller, these poems came about,” she said before reading the titular poem, “Rain Scald.”
Attsidy ended the reading with the last poem in her book, “Even Song,” opting to only read the third part of the poem, “Holy People”:
“Oh, Holy People, show me how I am human / How I am soon to sliver / Stay please, for woman or man’s sake / Succor me from a telestial state, where I long to be self-luminous in a slate of granite / How easily I fall to shards, a hand left to wane ungathered-”
– Tacey M. Atsitty
After the reading, event participants were able to print Atsitty’s poems with images designed by the Publication Studies class. You can buy Atsitty’s debut book of poems, “Rain Scald,” at the SLCC bookstore.
Inclusive SWRC events
The Student Writing and Reading Center (SWRC) has sponsored several events this semester to encourage reading and writing for specific target populations at the college, according to Clint Gardner, program manager of college writing and reading centers at SLCC.
“The intent of these events is to raise awareness of writers and writing from people who have a history of being discriminated against and under-represented, as well as to address institutional and educational marginalization,” Gardner said.
During LGBTQ+ history month in October, the SWRC held the second annual Rainbow Read-in to spotlight authors apart of the LGBTQ+ community. For Latinx Heritage Month, they held the Celebrating Utah Latinx Writers Poetry Reading with Mexican American poet Jaqueline Balderrama, author of “Now in Color,” which won the 2020 Perugia Press Prize.
Upcoming Native American Heritage Month Events at SLCC
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, SLCC is holding several other events:
Unmasking the Hidden Crisis of Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women (MMIW)
Nov. 30, 1-2 p.m. in the Student Event Center at Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
The Native American Health Panel
Dec. 3, 12-2 p.m. in the Student Event Center at Taylorsville Redwood Campus.
Native American Art Mural Showcase
On display until Dec. 3. in the Taylorsville Redwood Campus Student Center, room 236.