Pacific University’s Visiting Writers Series welcomed 3-term Poet Laureate of the United States, musician, and playwright Joy Harjo to campus via Zoom on Oct. 28, 2021 to give a reading of some of her work. Harjo gave a 45-minute reading of several pieces of poetry, prose, and song before holding a 15-minute Q & A with participants.
Harjo is the first and only Native American Poet Laureate of the United States as a member of the Muscogee Nation of Oklahoma. During her reading, she said that her identity as Native American greatly influences her work and is crucial to her background as an artist.
“I think I innately look in our communities and it’s just part of what we do,” said Harjo during her Zoom reading. She also discussed how her family, her mother in particular, originally brought about her interest in poetry and song.
“I just do it the way it comes to me, which mixes song [and] poetry,” Harjo said, “I think I came to poetry not as an academic. I came to it listening to my mom writing songs.”
She read pieces from various popular works, including poems “Perhaps the World Ends Here”, “Somewhere”, and “Fall Song”. In addition, she played a recording of her well-known song, “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” and read from her new memoir entitled “Poet Warrior”, which was published in September. In it, she recounts her experiences as an artist finding her calling while working toward a master’s degree in creative writing as well as being a single mother. The work that Harjo read blended spirituality with connectedness between people, speaking frequently to her belief that all people are more alike than different. She also reflected on her take on environmental healing, referring to her belief that humans are one and the same with the planet, not separate entities.
Senior creative writing major Kyla Wilson, who helped to organize and host the event, said that, as an artist, hearing Harjo read her work was validating to her and others as creatives.
“It was really inspiring and eye-opening, especially in the current climate of art being super devalued,” said Wilson, who is also a poet. She also added that being able to take part in hosting a poet of such renown and acclaim was surreal.
“She’s shaped the way American poetry has looked over her last 3 terms as poet laureate,” said Wilson, “It was really inspiring and eye-opening, especially in the current climate of art being super devalued.” — Isabelle Williams