A week from now, we at the Library will begin the process of saying goodbye to Joy Harjo as our 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. I say begin because Joy will be participating in two closing events: a reading/talk/performance honoring Joy’s poetry ancestors and celebrating Native poets present and future in our historic Coolidge Auditorium on Thursday, April 28, followed by a dance party on Friday, April 29! Joy won’t be doing either alone, as she will be joined onstage on Thursday by singer/songwriter Jennifer Kreisberg and poet Portlyn Houghton-Harjo, and she’ll dance away on Friday with DJ Tynce at the helm. And throughout next week, the Library will host the first-ever retreat of In-Na-Po: Indigenous Nations Poets—and we’ll have a great group of Native poets there to celebrate with us.
These two closing events are free and open to the public, so make sure to register for your tickets now! Thursday night’s event will also be livestreamed on the Library’s YouTube channel and Facebook page.
This moment—the end of a laureate’s final term—is always bittersweet, and it seems especially so with Joy, who has been part of the Library for a record-tying three terms. Looking back at all that has happened since the announcement of her appointment back in 2019, I’m struck by how she—and poetry—gave us something to hold on to. Just watch her “Poetry of Home” feature for The Washington Post at the start of the pandemic. I’m also grateful that her signature project, which we were set to announce by March of 2020, made the most of connecting Native poets to the country virtually. I also appreciate how she brought her band to the Library for her opening event, and how beautifully she interwove poetry and song—a hallmark of her work.
Going back to the beginning, I think of how Joy’s laureateship has been more strongly connected to the Library and its collections. Back in May of 2019, as part of the pre-announcement laureate “orientation,” Joy not only met the Librarian of Congress and staff from the Office of Communications and the Office of General Counsel, but with various collections-based offices as well. That summer, she came back for a week-long “residency” at the Library to spend time in various reading rooms and check out collections that featured Native peoples and culture. Her visit with Geography and Maps staff led to her use of the StoryMap platform for her project, and after listening to recordings in the American Folklife Center Reading Room she thought of the development of the “Living Nations, Living Words” collection of audio recordings—the first time a laureate project created a collection.
As I’ve noted in a previous post, Joy is an amazing dancer, and you do not want to miss her in action at her dance party—but come prepared to sweat through your outfits! And from all that I have seen Joy do in the position over the last three years, I can say that her closing event on Thursday will be an “I was there when” moment for everyone in the Coolidge Auditorium and watching on our YouTube page—it will be that historic, that moving, that honoring. We hope to see you there, and don’t worry about shedding a few tears—you will not be alone.