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Norman poet Joe Dale Tate Nevaquaya is honored for 19-year-old manuscript
NORMAN — A poet and visual artist, Joe Dale Tate Nevaquaya has spent most of his life recording reactions to the world around him. He never thought that outward expression would lead to a 2012 Oklahoma Book Award for Poetry for “Leaving Holes and Selected New Writings,” a collection of works he wrote decades ago that was published last year by Mongrel Empire Press.
In 1992, “Leaving Holes” was co-winner of the first Native Writers' Circle First Book Award for Poetry. Due to the closure of the small press that agreed to publish the manuscript, there was a 19-year lapse between the book's award and its publication.
“I don't really talk about my work that much,” Nevaquaya said. “The original manuscript was written almost 20 years ago, and prior to that, I destroyed a whole volume of my work from my childhood and teen years.”
Between the time “Leaving Holes” won the award in 1992 until it was published last year, he considered destroying it also. It was a singular manuscript. The small publishing company that had agreed to publish it went under, and it was lost. Nevaquaya spent years trying to track it down.
“It had gone to New York. By the time I got it back 10 to 12 years later, it was in Chicago. I thought maybe it wasn't meant to be published,” he said. “I debated destroying it or sticking it in a trunk for my grandson or whoever. Even now I'm unsure of the work.”
Many would argue those insecurities are unfounded.
“It is time to celebrate the arrival of these poems, acknowledge the visions and give them their place in the circle,” poet and performer Joy Harjo wrote in a review of the book. Rilla Askew, author of “Harpsong,” said, “
Nevaquaya, who now lives in Norman, spent his childhood years in Bristow and on skid row in Oklahoma City. With tribal affiliations to the Yuchi and Comanche tribes of Oklahoma, Nevaquaya writes about poverty, pain and his decision to make a life for himself despite the obstacles he encountered.