New National Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

New National Poet Laureate Joy Harjo


>>SO, THIS NEXT POEM, I WROTE
IT IN KIND OF THE TRADITION OF THE MUSCOGEE CREEK RABBIT
STORY. RABBIT IS OUR TRICKSTER
FIGURE. OUT HERE IN THE SOUTHWEST I
THINK IT IS COYOTES. WE KNOW SOME OF THOSE AND
OFTEN THEY ARE OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS.>>YES, YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN.>>THE RABBIT IS UP TO TRICKS.>>IN A WORLD LONG BEFORE THIS
ONE, THERE WAS ENOUGH FOR EVERYONE UNTIL SOMEBODY GOT
OUT OF LINE. WE HEARD IT WAS RABBIT FOOLING
AROUND WITH CLAY IN THE WIND. EVERYBODY WAS TIRED OF TRICKS
AND NO ONE WOULD PLAY WITH HIM AND HE WAS LONELY IN THIS
WORLD. SO, RABBIT SOUGHT TO MAKE A
PERSON AND WHEN HE BLEW INTO THE MOUTH OF THAT CRUDE FIGURE
TO SEE WHAT WOULD HAPPEN, THE CLAY MAN STOOD UP. RABBIT SHOWED THE CLAY MAN HOW
TO STEEL A CHICKEN. THE CLAY MAN OBEYED. THEN SHE SHOWED HIM HOW TO
STEAL CORN. THE CLAY MAN OBEYED. THEN SHE SHOWED HIM HOW TO
STEAL SOMEONE ELSE’S WIFE. AND THAT CLAY MAN OBEYED. RABBIT FELT IMPORTANT AND
POWERFUL AND — RABBIT FELT IMPORTANT AND POWERFUL AND THE
CLAY MAN FELT IMPORTANT AND POWERFUL AND ONCE THAT CLAY
MAN STARTED, HE COULD NOT STOP. ONCE HE TOOK THAT CHICKEN, HE
WANTED ALL THE CHICKENS. ONCE HE TOOK THAT CORN, HE
WANTED ALL THE CORN. AND ONCE HE TOOK THAT WIFE,
WELL, HE WANTED ALL THE WIVES. HE WAS INSATIABLE. THEN HE HAD A TASTE OF GOLD. HE WANTED ALL THE GOLD. THEN IT WAS LAND OR ANYTHING
ELSE HE SAW. HIS WANTING ONLY MADE HIM WANT
MORE. SOON IT WAS COUNTRIES, THEN IT
WAS TRADES, THE WANTING INFECTED THE EARTH. WE LOST TRACK OF THE PURPOSE
AND MEANING OF LIFE. WE BEGAN TO FORGET OUR SONGS,
OUR STORIES. WE CAN NO LONGER SEE OR HEAR
OUR ANCESTORS. OR TALK WITH EACH OTHER ACROSS
THE KITCHEN TABLE. FORESTS WERE BEING MOWED DOWN
ALL OVER THE WORLD TO MAKE MORE AND RABBIT HAD NO PLACE
LEFT TO PLAY. RABBITS TRICK HAD BACKFIRED. RABBIT TRIED TO CALL THAT CLAY
MAN BACK, BUT WHEN THAT CLAY MAN WOULDN’T LISTEN, RABBIT
REALIZED HE HAD MADE A CLAY MAN WITH NO EARS.>>WHAT RESPONSIBILITY DOES
POET LAUREATE, GIVEN THE POWER OF POETRY.>>THAT IS SOMETHING I AM
LEARNING. IT IS AN HONOR AND, YES, IT IS
A LOT OF RESPONSIBILITY BECAUSE ESSENTIALLY YOU’RE THE
AMBASSADOR OF POETRY AND, BUT WHAT EXCITES ME ABOUT IT IS
THAT IT OPENS THE DOOR FOR, ONE, FOR NATIVE PEOPLE. IT IS LIKE, WOW, YOU MEAN
THERE ARE NATIVES. AND I HAVE RUN INTO. I HELPED PUT OUT AN ANTHOLOGY
YOU MEAN THERE ARE NATIVES IN THIS COUNTRY? THERE IS A STUDY BY A GROUP OF
NATIVES THAT SHOWS THE DATE AND DEMOGRAPHICS THAT SHOW A
LOT OF PEOPLE THINK WE ARE DEAD OR GONE OR THEY THINK WE
ARE NOT HUMAN.>>NOT HUMAN?>>GO BACK TO THE PAST BEFORE
THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE, YOU KNOW, THEY
WERE HEATHENS AND SAVAGES, THAT NEEDED TO BE SAVED FROM
OURSELVES.>>WHY DO YOU CHOOSE POETRY TO
CARRY YOUR VOICE?>>I DON’T KNOW THAT I CHOSE
POETRY TO CARRY MY VOICE. I STARTED OUT AS A CHILD, I
LOVED DOING ART AND I LOVE MUSIC ALSO, BUT I GAVE UP ON
MUSIC WHEN I WAS ABOUT 16 OR YOUNGER. NO, I WAS IN JUNIOR HIGH. AND POETRY CAME TO ME WHEN I
WAS REALLY A STUDENT AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO, AN
ART MAJOR, AND POETRY, I THINK, LESLIE SILKO WAS
TEACHING THERE AS A VISITING WRITER. THEY HAD A VERY STRONG
CREATIVE WRITING PROGRAM AND A THE LOT OF NATIVE POETS COMING
THROUGH AND I WAS PART OF KIVA CLUB WHICH WAS A VERY ACTIVE
NATIVE STUDENT CLUB AND POETRY EMERGED OUT OF THAT, OUT OF
THE NEED FOR VOICES, ESPECIALLY FOR WOMEN IN THOSE
TIMES IN THE EARLY 70’S. AND SO POETRY CAME TO ME AND
SAID, IN A WAY, I CHOOSE YOU, AND IT IS LIKE, WHY ME? I AM NOT THE BEST WITH WORDS. I PREFER TO PAINT AND HIDE
OUT. I COULD PAINT ALL NIGHT AND I
DIDN’T HAVE TO STAND IN FRONT OF PEOPLE AND SPEAK OR TO
SPEAK AT ALL. THE POETRY SAYS, WELL, WE’LL
TEACH YOU WHAT TO DO.>>IN YOUR MEMOIR, AS YOU
SAID, YOU BEGAN TO WRITE POETRY WHEN YOU WERE A STUDENT
AT UNM. IT WAS A DIFFICULT TIME. YOU HAD YOUNG CHILDREN, YOU
HAD A PARTNER WHO HAD BECOME ABUSIVE. YOU WERE HAVING PANIC ATTACKS
AND YOU WROTE, I MUST BECOME THE POEM, THE MUSIC AND THE
DANCER. WHY DO YOU THINK POETRY
EMERGED AT THAT TIME, AS YOU SAY, TO HELP?>>I THINK IF YOU WATCH THE
EMERGENCE OF POETRY OR WHERE IT REALLY COMES TO THE
FOREFRONT OF A CULTURAL CONSCIOUSNESS IS USUALLY IN
TIMES OF GREAT TRANSITION, GREAT TRANSFORMATION. AND IN THE EARLY 70’S, I MEAN
YOU LOOK AT THE CIVIL RIGHTS MOVEMENT, YOU LOOK AT NATIVE
RIGHTS MOVEMENTS, WOMEN’S RIGHTS MOVEMENTS, IT WAS ALL
COMING TOGETHER RIGHT THERE AND ESPECIALLY FOR US, FOR
NATIVE STUDENTS, YOU KNOW, IT WAS ALL COMING TOGETHER AT
THAT POINT AND THEN IN MY OWN PERSONAL JOURNEY AS A YOUNG
WOMAN WHO, YOU KNOW, WE ALL GO THROUGH CHALLENGES. I WENT THROUGH CHALLENGES. EVERYONE GOES THROUGH
CHALLENGES. AT THAT AGE, AROUND 21, YOU
ARE COMING INTO — FOR EVERYONE, FOR EVERY
GENERATION, 21 YEARS OLD IT IS A TIME OF RECKONING, OKAY? WHERE AM I NOW AND WHERE AM I
GOING AS A HUMAN BEING? AND THEN GENERATIONAL. WHO ARE WE AS A GENERATION? WHAT HISTORY ARE WE COMPELLED
TO ENGAGE WITH AND TO WALK FORWARD WITH ETHICALLY, TO
MAKE CHANGE THAT WILL BENEFIT THE PEOPLE. WHEN I SAY PEOPLE, ALL PEOPLE,
ANIMALS, PLANTS AND ALSO THE EARTH BECAUSE ESSENTIALLY WE
ARE THE EARTH.>>YOU HAVE SOME OF THE MOST
IMPORTANT NATIVE ARTISTS TEACHING AT THE INSTITUTE OF
AMERICAN INDIAN ARTS WHERE YOU ATTENDED IN THE LATE 60’S AND
THEN DURING YOUR TIME AT THE UNIVERSITY OF NEW MEXICO,
THERE WAS THIS EMERGING NATIVE RIGHTS MOVEMENT. HOW DID THOSE SHAPE YOU IN
YOUR POETRY?>>I AM STILL THINKING ABOUT
THAT. I AM STILL THINKING ABOUT
THAT. COMING FROM OKLAHOMA, WHICH
HAS ITS OWN VERY DISTINCT AND VARIED HISTORY WITH NATIVE
PEOPLE TO THE INSTITUTE OF AMERICAN INDIAN ARTS, WHICH IN
THE LATE 60’S WAS — IT WAS PLACE THAT GAVE SO MANY
ARTISTS PERMISSION, A PLACE TO BE TOGETHER AS YOUNG NATIVE
ARTISTS FROM ALL OVER THE COUNTRY, FROM TRIBES
EVERYWHERE, AND THAT BECAME — THAT BECAME A PLACE — IT
SAVED MY LIFE. IT SAVED MANY OTHERS. BECAUSE YOU KNOW, IT IS
DIFFICULT BEING AN ARTIST AND BEING A YOUNG ARTIST BECAUSE
WE ARE TUNED A CERTAIN WAY AND THEN TO COME INTO THE COMPANY
OF INCREDIBLE YOUNG ARTISTS AND MANY WHOSE NAMES YOU WOULD
KNOW NOW, WITH TEACHERS WHO UNDERSTOOD THAT, AND WHO CAME
FROM PREDOMINANTLY INDIGENOUS CULTURES AND UNDERSTOOD THE
HISTORY, IT WAS A POINT OF EDUCATION AND LEARNING THAT
JUST BLEW OPEN IMAGINATION AND MEMORY SO, SAY, YES, WE HAVE A
STORY. YES, WE ARE MAKING ART. YES, WE CAN BE INFLUENCED BY
JIMMY HENDRIX, BY ALL OF THESE PEOPLE, BUT AT THE SAME TIME,
IT IS COMING THROUGH THE LIMBS OF OUR BECOMING YOUNG MUSCOGEE
PEOPLE WHO ARE CARRYING ON THAT CULTURE AND THAT PLACE. AND YET WE ARE MOVING FORWARD
INTO THIS WORLD THAT IS SO, YOU KNOW, IT IS ALWAYS
CHANGING. THE WORLD HAS ALWAYS CHANGED
BUT IT IS CHANGING DRAMATICALLY IN THESE TIMES.>>IN YOUR MEMOIR, CRAZY
BRAVE, YOU TALKED ABOUT IAI AS A PLACE WHERE YOUR SPIRIT
FOUND A PLACE TO HEAL. WHY WAS IT SO IMPORTANT AT
THAT POINT IN YOUR LIFE TO FIND THAT PLACE?>>I WOULD NOT HAVE MADE IT
AND MANY OF US DIDN’T MAKE IT. I MEAN, HOW DO YOU CARRY THE
WEIGHT OF HISTORY AND HAVE NO WORDS OR NO WAY TO ADDRESS IT? AND IT HAPPENS TO A LOT OF
YOUNG PEOPLE, YOUNG NATIVE PEOPLE. WE HAVE SOME OF THE HIGHEST
SUICIDE RATES AND SO ON. WHAT DO YOU DO WITH IT? IT DOESN’T GO AWAY. JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T SEE OUR
HISTORY AS PART OF AMERICA DOESN’T MEAN IT DIDN’T HAPPEN,
DOESN’T MEAN WE ARE NOT THERE, HERE, PRESENT AND MOVING
FORWARD WITH THIS STORY. AMERICA IS A YOUNG COUNTRY. AMERICA NEEDS HEALING AND
AMERICA WILL NOT HEAL UNTIL THE STORY OF INDIGENOUS
PEOPLES AS AMERICA IS SET INTO ITS CORRECT PLACE.>>IN YOUR NEW COLLECTION,
AMERICAN SUNRISE, THE POEM FOR WHICH IT IS NAMED IS AN
ADAPTATION OF THE FAMOUS POEM BY GWENDOLYN BROOKS, WE BE
COOL, AND THAT POEM IS A PORTRAIT OF YOUNG BLACK MEN
SIMULTANEOUSLY BRAGGING BUT THEY ARE ALSO QUESTIONING THE
VALIDITY OF THEIR EXISTENCE, STRUGGLING WITH FINDING THEIR
PLACE IN AMERICAN SOCIETY. WHAT PARALLELS DID YOU FIND IN
NATIVE AMERICAN YOUTH?>>THANK YOU FOR BRINGING THAT
UP BECAUSE NO ONE ELSE HAS REALLY SEEN THAT. YES, THE POEM IS CALLED AND
BASED ON A FORM CALLED THE GOLDEN SHOVEL WHERE YOU TAKE A
LINE IN THE POEM AND LAST WORDS OF THE POEM YOU WRITE
MAKE UP THE LAST LINE — THE LAST WORD OF EACH LINE IS THAT
AND SO IT IS ABOUT YOUNG PEOPLE, YOUNG NATIVE PEOPLE,
YEARS AGO TRYING TO ASSERT THEMSELVES AS HUMAN BEINGS AND
ASSERT THEIR IDENTITY AND PLACE WITH THAT KIND OF
SPIRIT, YOU KNOW, THAT SPIRITEDNESS THAT YOU HAVE AT
THAT GENERATION WHEN YOU’RE OPENING YOUR MIND TO
IMAGINATION IN THE MEMORY TO WHAT IS POSSIBLE FROM THE
DOORWAY AND FINDING DOORWAYS THAT ONLY THEY CAN OPEN. SO, THE POEM REALLY IS ABOUT
THAT KIND OF ENERGETIC AND SAYING, YEAH, WE ARE STILL
AMERICA, WE ARE HERE.>>AN AMERICAN SUNRISE. WE WERE RUNNING OUT OF BREATH
AS WE RAN TO MEET OURSELVES. WE WERE SURFACING THE EDGE OF
OUR ANCESTORS’ FIGHTS AND READY TO STRIKE. IT WAS DIFFICULT TO LOSE DAYS
IN THE INDIAN BAR IF YOU WERE STRAIGHT. EASY IF YOU PLAYED POOL AND
DRANK TO REMEMBER TO FORGET. WE MADE PLANS TO BE
PROFESSIONAL AND DID. SOME OF US COULD SING WHEN WE
DROVE TO THE EDGE OF THE MOUNTAINS WITH A DRUM. WE MADE SENSE OF OUR
BEAUTIFUL, CRAZED LIVES UNDER THE STARRY STARS. SIN WAS INVENTED BY THE
CHRISTIAN, AS WAS DEVIL, WE SANG. WE WERE THE HEATHENS, BUT
NEEDED TO BE SAVED FROM THEM. THIN CHANCE. WE KNEW WE WERE ALL RELATED IN
THIS STORY, A LITTLE GIN WILL CLARIFY THE DARK AND MAKE US
ALL FEELING LIKE DANCING. WE HAD SOMETHING TO DO WITH
THE ORIGINS OF BLUES AND JAZZ, I ARGUED WITH THE MUSIC AS I
FILLED THE JUKEBOX WITH DIMES IN JUNE. FORTY YEARS LATER AND WE STILL
WANT JUSTICE. WE ARE STILL AMERICA. WE.>>IT ALSO BRINGS OUT IN THE
POETRY ABOUT THE DIFFICULTY OF TRYING TO LIVE IN AT LEAST TWO
WORLDS, IF NOT MORE. HOW DO YOU TRY TO TALK ABOUT
THAT IN YOUR POETRY? FOR YOURSELF AND FOR OTHER
NATIVE PEOPLE?>>I JUST LISTEN AND I DO MY
POETRY, YOU KNOW. I DON’T SIT AND THINK, WELL, I
LIVE IN HOW MANY WORLDS? IT IS NOT THAT. IT JUST — IT EMERGES THAT
WAY. PEOPLE ASK ME, DO YOU WRITE AS
A MUSCOGEE PERSON? WELL, I WRITE AS WHO I AM AS A
HUMAN BEING. IT IS ABOUT LISTENING. SO YOU ASK WHERE POETRY COMES
FROM. YOU LISTEN AND IT COMES FROM,
YOU KNOW, THE SOURCE OF LIFE WHICH IS AS BREATH. YOU LISTEN AND YOU HAVE ALL
YOUR TOOLS THERE. BUT THE FIRST PART OF IT IS
LISTENING AND THEN ENJOYING THE RIDE THAT IT TAKES YOU ON. OF COURSE, IT IS GOING TO COME
THROUGH WHAT YOU ARE. AND WHO YOU ARE AND WHERE YOU
COME FROM AND YOUR ANCESTORS AND WHAT PLANTS HAVE FED YOU
AND HOW ARE THEY SPEAKING THROUGH YOU OR WITH YOU. YOU KNOW. IT IS A COMBINATION OF ALL OF
THAT.>>YOU CALL YOUR POETRY SOUL
TALK. TELL ME WHAT THAT MEANS TO
YOU.>>SOUL TALK. WELL, I CAME TO POETRY BECAUSE
I NEEDED A LANGUAGE THAT WAS BEYOND EVERYDAY LANGUAGE,
WHICH I BELIEVE IS POETRY. AND THERE IS EVERYDAY REALITY
JUST THE HARD CORE PHYSICALITY, LITERAL KIND OF
REALITY, BUT MOST OF OUR REALITY IS NOT WHAT IS SEEN OR
WHAT CAN BE TOUCHED. WE CAN FEEL IT. SO, FOR ME, POETRY BEING SOUL
TALK IS BEING ABLE TO GO INTO THAT PLACE OF, IT IS A PLACE
WHERE WISDOM LIVES, WHERE FRESH IDEAS LIVE THAT WE NEED
FOR FOOD, FOR SPIRITUAL FOOD AND I SEE POETRY AS PART OF
THAT. YES, WE NEED PHYSICAL FOOD. YOU KNOW, I ALWAYS REMEMBER
THE LITTLE KID, WE HAVE TO REPEAT THIS, WHAT DO HUMAN
BEINGS NEED TO LIVE. FOOD, CLOTHING, SHELTER AND I
EVEN WONDERED AS A KID, YES, BUT IT IS NOT JUST THAT. WE NEED TO BE UPLIFTED. WE NEED FOOD FOR OUR SPIRITS,
FOOD FOR OUR SOULS AND POETRY AND THE LANGUAGE OF POETRY
LINKS ME BACK TO THAT.>>WE ARE IN A TIME IN OUR
COUNTRY WHERE WE ARE NOT LISTENING MUCH TO EACH OTHER. HOW COULD POETRY HELP US
LISTEN?>>I BELIEVE THAT POETRY CAN
HELP US LISTEN AND THAT IS WHAT I AM THINKING ABOUT AS I
GO FORWARD WITH THIS POET LAUREATESHIP BECAUSE IF YOU
LISTEN TO A POEM, YOU HAVE TO STOP AND LISTEN. AND HOW BETTER FOR PEOPLE TO
SPEAK WITH EACH OTHER THAN THROUGH POETRY?>>WE ARE ALL HUMANS. WE ALL HAVE DIFFERENT STORIES
AND CHALLENGES AND YET, YOU KNOW, WE’RE ALL IN A CEREMONY
OF THE SUN THAT WE ARE IN TOGETHER AND AT SUNRISE IT IS
A GOOD PLACE TO GO OUT AND SAY THANK YOU AND ASK FOR GOOD
PRAYERS AND THOUGHTS FOR ALL OF US ON THIS JOURNEY. YOU KNOW, THE BIRDS ARE OUT
THERE DOING IT, THE PLANTS, EVERYBODY IS INVOLVED IN THE
SUNRISE CEREMONY, SO TO SPEAK, AND THIS POEM CAME ABOUT AT
SUNSET WHERE I REALIZED STANDING THERE AND YOU FOLLOW
THAT MOVEMENT AND ENERGY AND LET IT GO. IT IS A GOOD TIME TO LET
THINGS GO. LET IT GO. IF YOU DON’T, THAT IS A LOT OF
OUR ILLNESSES START FROM HOLDING ON TO THINGS. HOLDING ON TO THE THINGS OFTEN
WE CAN DO NOTHING ABOUT. JUST LET IT GO. LET IT GO. LET IT GO. THIS SONG CAME ABOUT FROM
THAT.>>I MUST KEEP FROM BREAKING
INTO THE STORY BY FORCE FOR IF I DO, I WILL FIND MYSELF WITH
A WAR CLUB IN MY HAND AND THE SMOKE OF GRIEF STAGGERING
TOWARDS THE SUN, YOUR NATION DEAD BESIDE YOU. I KEEP WALKING AWAY THOUGH IT
HAS BEEN AN ETERNITY AND FROM EACH DROP OF BLOOD,
SPRINGS UP SONS AND DAUGHTERS AND TREES, A MOUNTAIN OF
SORROWS, OF SONG. I TELL YOU THIS FROM THE DUSK
OF A SMALL CITY IN THE NORTH, NOT FAR FROM THE BIRTHPLACE OF
CARS AND INDUSTRY. GEESE ARE RETURNING TO MATE
AND CROCUSES HAVE BROKEN THROUGH THE FROZEN EARTH. SOON THEY WILL COME FOR ME AND
I WILL MAKE MY STAND BEFORE THE JURY OF DESTINY. YES, I WILL ANSWER IN THE
CLATTER OF THE NEW WORLD, I HAVE BROKEN MY ADDICTION TO
WAR AND DESIRE. YES, I WILL REPLY, I HAVE
BURIED THE DEAD AND MADE SONGS OF THE BLOOD, THE MARROW. EVERY NIGHT DURING THE SUMMER
AND INTO THE FALL HERE IN THE HOMELANDS, THERE IS A HUGE
CONCERT OF THE INSECT ORCHESTRA. NOW, THE ORCHESTRA IS SHUTTING
DOWN FOR THE SEASON. LAST NIGHT, I HEARD TWO OR
THREE STRAGGLERS TRYING TO CARRY ON A SONG. THEY REMINDED ME OF THE LAST
REMAINING SOULS AT A 49 DANCE, BLEARY EYED, DRAGGING BLANKETS
AND STILL SINGING, THOUGH EVERYONE ELSE HAD GONE HOME. I DON’T CARE IF YOU’RE MARRIED
16 TIMES. I’LL GET YOU YET. YO HEY. [APPLAUSE]
>>WE APPRECIATE THE TIME JOY HARJO GAVE US AND WISH HER
WELL IN HER APPOINTMENT AS POET LAUREATE. AND KEEP AN EYE OUT IN COMING
DAYS AND WEEKS ON FACEBOOK AND YOUTUBE FOR MORE VIDEOS FROM
HER POETRY READINGS, WE HAVE A FIRST EDITION OF HER NEW BOOK
OF POETRY, AN AMERICAN SUNRISE, THAT WANT TO GIVE
AWAY. HEAD TO OUR FACEBOOK PAGE FOR
A LINK ON HOW TO ENTER.

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