Joy Harjo, the first Native American poet to serve as U.S. poet laureate, has been reappointed to a rare third term by the Library of Congress.
Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, was initially appointed in 2019. At the start of her tenure, Harjo explained what that honor meant for Indigenous peoples.
“Some of us are astronauts. Some of us are really good at fixing cars, but we’re human beings. And some of us write poetry…it makes a doorway of hope.”
In a statement announcing the reappointment, Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden wrote that, amid the novel coronavirus pandemic, Harjo “has shown how poetry can help steady us and nurture us.”
“We always go to poetry in times of transformation—birth, death, marriage, and falling in and out of love,” Harjo said. “But here we are at a time of tremendous transformation—and where do we go? And here we are with poetry. And I get to help during this huge transformative event that we’re all part of.”
Harjo recently completed her Living Nations, Living Words project. The online map collects biographies and recordings from dozens of contemporary Native poets across the country. Harjo said that she wanted to map these poets and their work to “counter damaging false assumptions—that Indigenous peoples of our country are often invisible or are not seen as human.”
“You will not find us fairly represented, if at all, in the cultural storytelling of America, and nearly nonexistent in the American book of poetry,” Harjo said.
The digital archive, which was developed with the Library of Congress’ Geography and Map Division, allows visitors to hear from the writers themselves. Poets like Louise Erdrich, Natalie Diaz, Ray Young Bear, Craig Santos Perez, among others, read and discuss their poems, which center on the themes of place and displacement.
Harjo said the digital map is an extension of her continued work to fill the gap where American literature either hasn’t properly represented Native voices, or has only done so “in shards or little pieces here and there.”
“The story of America begins with Native presence, thoughts, and words,” she said. “Poetry is made of word threads that weave and connect us.”
Read Full Article from PBS NewsHour (VA) (11/19/20)
Author: Barajas, Joshua
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