An Ethnography of Navajo Poetry
Intimate Grammars takes an ethnographic and ethnopoetic approach to language and culture in contemporary time, in which poetry and poets are increasingly important and visible in the Navajo Nation. Webster uses interviews and linguistic analysis to understand the kinds of social work that Navajo poets engage in through their poetry.
Based on more than a decade of ethnographic and linguistic research, Webster’s book explores a variety of topics: the emotional value assigned to various languages spoken on the Navajo Nation through poetry (Navajo English, Navlish, Navajo, and English), why Navajo poets write about the “ugliness” of the Navajo Nation, and the way contemporary Navajo poetry connects young Navajos to the Navajo language. Webster also discusses how contemporary Navajo poetry challenges the creeping standardization of written Navajo and how boarding school experiences influence how Navajo poets write poetry and how Navajo readers appreciate contemporary Navajo poetry.
Through the work of poets such as Luci Tapahonso, Laura Tohe, Rex Lee Jim, Gloria Emerson, Blackhorse Mitchell, Esther Belin, Sherwin Bitsui, and many others, Webster provides new ways of thinking about contemporary Navajo poets and poetry. Intimate Grammars offers an exciting new ethnography of speaking, ethnopoetics, and discourse-centered examinations of language and culture.
learn to listen and respect diverse languages and ways of speaking, and to challenge your own biases toward others and the diversity of languages.”—Charlotte J. Frisbie, co-editor of Navajo Blessingway Singer: The Autobiography of Frank Mitchell, 1881–1967