As part of a special collaboration between PEN America and the Civitella Ranieri Foundation in Umbria, Italy, every two years PEN will be able to provide a unique, six-week residency to a working PEN Member. A special panel of judges awarded the inaugural residency to poet Natalie Diaz, who began her stay at Civitella this May.

Over the coming weeks, Diaz will post a series of dispatches from Civitella documenting her stay, her experiences, and the projects she works on during her residency. 

On the “Musical Disaster” of Language

I am very lucky for the PEN and Civitella Ranieri Foundation partnership. While here, in a castle in Umbertide, Italy, for six weeks with a wild kingdom of artists, I will be blogg(ish)ing.

One of the most wonderful experiences of being here in this castle, besides watching Lars Lauman’s cigarette smoke snake its silvery way from the tower and ramparts up among the stars at night, is the musical disaster of all the fellows’ languages when we communicate. We talk about our arts, our lovers, our hunger, our need for someone to pass the chicken full of wine (more on this in a later blog post), our children, our wonders, our mistakes, our appetites and obsessions, and our perpetually hurtful/pleasure-filled worlds.

The work that compels me, that I am trying to create while I am here, exists in a space of and between my languages—English, Mojave, and Spanish. The energies and works of the artists at Civitella intersect/collide/hook-up/have drinks/create this amazing and lucky space—a space that exists between language and because of language, but also in the wars of language, in the silences of language, in the closets of language, in the errors of language, in the failures of language, in the mighty and ancient castles of language.

For this reason, I thought I’d start my first blog with our first Italian lesson. Taking part in the lesson were Portuguese composer Andreia Pinto Correia, Mozambican writer and biologist Mia Couto, and Nigerian writers Chinelo Okparanta and Elnathan John, and I/me/Io. Among the five of us, we speak more than seven languages. As you will see, none of these languages is Italian.