‘Poetry is about listening’ says Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

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Joy Harjo: It’s exciting to open a new door for Native people

Darren Brown

Joy Harjo, Muscogee (Creek) Nation made history last month by being  the first Native American to be named the US Poet Laureate.

Indian Country Today talked with Harjo about this prestigious honor. 

A transcript is available below

HARJO: I call myself a poet, a musician, a performer, a writer, mother, grandmother, great grandmother, y’know?

BROWN: And, Joy Harjo can now add one more title to her name: United States Poet Laureate. She was asked about it years ago, but was totally surprised when she got the call and received the appointment.

HARJO: Of course, y’know, you’re sitting there like “what?” y’know? But certainly it’s a great honor. But what’s exciting for me about it is that it opens the door for Native people. And it’s a positive spotlight on Native people.

BROWN: Harjo’s been working to get Native people in the spotlight for decades- through her poems, books, and music. Her artistic skills were nurtured and celebrated at the newly opened Institute of American Indian Arts during the early 1960s.

HARJO: What I’m doing now directly relates to my experience then, as being acknowledged as somebody who had real possibility.

HARJO: There were no Native women’s voices, really. Not talking about our everyday experience, not the everyday experience of what we were going through, and my poetry just kind of, came out of that. I didn’t plan it, I didn’t ask for it.

HARJO reading:
The rising sun paints the feet of night crawling enemies.
And they scatter into the burning hills.
I have fought each of them.
I know them by name…

HARJO: Poetry’s really about listening, everything really ultimately is. But it’s really, it’s about an art of listening so that you’re able to write or think beyond words. And that’s the great irony, it’s the great paradox, is like you’re using words, it requires, poetry requires skill with words to make it work right. But that’s all to get beyond words.

BROWN: Joy Harjo’s words have landed her a high-profile position as the official poet of the united states. And she’s the first Native woman ever in that post.

HARJO: I don’t represent all Native people, please! I don’t represent…and I’ve been in that position so many times where I’m representing all minorities in the U.S., or all!

HARJO: I will do the best that I can. I will disappoint some people, that just goes with being a human being.

HARJO: But it is not in me to give up.

HARJO reading:
I was taught to give honor to the house of the warriors,
Which cannot exist without the house of the peacemakers.

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Darren Brown, Cochiti/Choctaw, is a reporter/photographer for Cheyenne and Arapaho Television in Concho, Oklahoma. Email: dbrown@cheyenneandarapaho-nsn.gov. Follow him on Twitter: @dbdowntown

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