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PoetrySnaps! Kinsale Drake: Put on that KTNN

Courtesy Kinsale Drake

This week’s featured poet is Kinsale Drake. She grew up in two very different places: Los Angeles, California, where she went to school, and Navajo Mountain on the Utah/Arizona border. That’s where her maternal grandmother lived. Drake’s life and work are shaped by both landscapes and experiences. Today, she knits them together in her poem Put on that KTNN, a remembrance of her late grandmother and a nostalgic look back at the springs and summers of her youth.

Kinsale Drake:

My grandma lived by herself at her farm in Navajo Mountain. So, we’d go back really often when I was a kid to help out and do all the chores that the grandkids do.

Every couple of weeks we’d go out there. We’d drive. It was 12 hours exactly. My mom would wake us up at 4:00 a.m. We’d all get in the car and sleep, and then we’d drive 12 hours and end up there at 6:00 p.m.

Growing up, it was very much like the summer and the late spring landscape that I remember. My mom’s family is pretty traditional Navajo. My great uncle – who recently passed – lived up the road and he was our medicine man in the community. And then, my grandma lived next door; my grandpa had already passed. She had a garden. She grew corn. She had sheep that were always running around. Dogs, cats, horses. I got to name some horses.

It was so fun as a kid just rolling up and there was a new litter of kittens or a new dog that had wandered into our yard or something. It was really fun. It was a great place to be a kid.

Put on that KTNN

My mother was raised on Patsy Cline
and Hank Williams country
that bounced in on her father’s radio.

Even today, I know I am nearing home
when the pop music crackles
into KTNN, licks

of fluent Navajo flitting between
Loretta Lynn and Johnny Cash.
They are interludes, too,

for drumbeats and throaty covers
of well-loved tunes put on
by some local boys’ gas station

banjo and hot-rocket guitar,
a strong woman that sings
the seasons over a hand drum.

Then it is back
to more Loretta Lynn.
All contradictions

find a home in the body, the insect-skin
of the car sluicing the Arizona desert
as the cicadas pick up their grand

instruments. How else to know
you enter a land of monuments, not
a wasteland, loved by radio waves

and peach trees
and small, silly dogs that bridge
the distance between a chapter house

and the nearest Sonics in a city.
The moon rocks darken into pine,
pine into slickrock,

and the whole world remembers
what it once was–
grand ocean: sun, plankton, pearl,

blood, ancestor, cloud. Radio rainbows
the most violent parts of the land
thrashed by thunderstorms & sea

as the rattles pick up their backing track
and Hank Williams rolls in
all over again, easy and easy

and blue.

About the poet:

Kinsale Drake is a poet, playwright, and performer based in the Southwest. She is Diné and grew up on the Navajo Nation. Her work has appeared in many places, including, Teen Vogue, Time Magazine, and MTV. Drake is a recent graduate of Yale University and a recipient of The Academy of American Poets College Prize, the 2022 Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, and the Young Native Playwrights Award. She’s also the director of NDN Girls Book Club, a collaboration with Native women artists to inspire a community of writing and art for young people.

About the host:

Steven Law is the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps! He is a poet, essayist, storyteller, and the author of Polished, a collection of poems about exploring the Colorado Plateau by foot and by raft.

About the music:

Original music by Flagstaff-based band Pilcrowe.

PoetrySnaps! runs the first and third Friday of each month.

Steven Law was the co-producer of KNAU’s series PoetrySnaps!
Gillian Ferris was the News Director and Managing Editor for KNAU.