Since Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden’s announcement last week, 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Joy Harjo has been juggling a pretty full media schedule: In the past nine days, numerous articles and interviews have appeared online, in print, on TV and radio airwaves featuring Joy and her historic appointment as the first Native American laureate. To start diving in and learning more about our new laureate, the Library’s website is the best place to start—check out our new Joy Harjo Resource Guide, courtesy of “Catbird Seat” blogger and librarian extraordinaire Peter Armenti.
“Poetry demands that you stop, put everything down and listen, and you listen in poetry with your soul,” Joy told Ron Charles of The Washington Post. “That’s part of what I plan to do here: to make connections with poetry so that we can hear across these divisions and these lines that are hurting everyone.” About a potential laureateship project focused on addressing misconceptions about Native Americans, she added that “We all need humanizing, but especially natives because we’ve been so bound and ‘disappeared’ by images that really have nothing to do with us. That means bringing communities together to listen to poetry and to hear each other.” In an interview with The New York Times, Joy said she intends her project “’to remind people that poetry belongs to everyone’ and that it can draw from a range of human and natural experiences, ‘sunrise, sunset, eating, enjoying company, births, death, all of it.’”
“What excites me most is it honors our people, in particular, it honors the Muscogee people. It is a great honor and I wouldn’t be here without my people,” Joy said about her appointment in a statement to the Muscogee Creek Nation. To one of her local papers, Tulsa World, she offered that “what is so amazing about poetry is that it’s a way to speak beyond words. Every poem is a way to time travel, because reading a poem requires you to slow down.”
On NPR’s All Things Considered, Joy called poetry “an immense conversation of the soul,” and said her poems are driven by “justice and healing and transformation: The idea that you can … transform the images of our people from being non-human to human beings, and the ability to transform experiences that could potentially destroy a people, a family, a person to experiences that build connection and community.” She believes that “if people sit together and hear their deepest feelings and thoughts beyond political divisiveness, it makes connections. There’s connections made that can’t be made with politicized language.”
“It’s quite an honor, and I’m just at the very beginning,” Joy said in a video interview with the Academy of American Poets. Asked what she hopes to accomplish in the role, our new laureate continued:
I always tell my students about poetry ancestors. Every poem has so many poetry ancestors. How can we construct a poetry ancestor map of America that would include and start off with poetry of indigenous nations? Those strands would continue into the present with the wonderful young Native poets we have right now. I guess what strikes me is the diversity—the diversity of Native poetry, which was here and is here and is still growing, and the diversity of American poetry, which has roots all over the world—and I’ve always wanted to show that, ultimately, there’s a root system that’s connected all over the Americas, which is one body and all over the world. A healthy ecosystem is a system of diversity. That’s the same thing in poetry, different poetry streams. It’s the same thing with peoples in a country. Somehow I would like to pull all that. We have a lot of work to do—all of us.”
We look forward to learning so much more about our new laureate in the days, weeks, and months to come—we hope you do, too. Once again, congratulations to 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry Joy Harjo!