Anthony K. Webster is a linguistic anthropologist and author of the books Explorations in Navajo Poetry and Poetics (UNM, 2009) and Intimate Grammars: An Ethnography of Navajo Poetry (Arizona, 2015). His research focuses on the interplay between language, culture, the individual, and the imagination. He has published articles on Navajo ethnopoetics and Navajo language and culture in, among others, the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology, International Journal of American Linguistics, Anthropological Linguistics, Language in Society, Anthropology and Humanism, Journal of Anthropological Research, Semiotica, and the Journal of American Folklore. He is currently working on a book about translating contemporary Navajo poetry.


Poetry as Equipment for Living: Imagining Navajo on the page and on the Internet

This talk will consider the imagined future publics of Navajos who write poetry in a variety of languages, especially in Navajo, and how considerations of those publics may disincline Navajos to write in Navajo, but create emergent vitalities elsewhere. As more than one Navajo poet noted, there are “always Navajos who will say to you, ‘oh you spelled it wrong.’” I will discuss how such potential critical audiences of written Navajo poetry seem to have led to the emergence of poetry composed and performed in Navajo on YouTube. Here there is no written poetry in Navajo, but rather poetry as an aural/oral phenomenon. It also re-imagines a future public not of just Navajos understanding Navajo, but rather of Navajo as a language worth coming to know. It posits a broader kind of ethical listener and attempts to create an expansive poetic communion predicated on poetry as equipment for living.

Rohatyn Center for Global Affairs
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