Nationally renowned poet to read at UNO
November 14th, 2011
Omaha, NE – A nationally-renowned poet, performer, playwright and author will be speaking at the University of Nebraska Omaha this week. Born in Oklahoma, Joy Harjo is considered a major figure in contemporary American poetry.
Harjo’s first poems were published in 1975, when she was just 24, in a volume titled The Last Song. She is perhaps best known for her work, In Mad Love and War, which was published in 1990 and deals with the politics of Native American history. Harjo is a native of the Muskogee Creek tribe, and her heritage features prominently in her work. In a recent interview with KVNO News, Harjo said although sheâ€™d agree with one way sheâ€™s been described – a political, feminist Native American – thatâ€™s just a part of who she is.
â€œI think just like any other human being on earth, the culture we write or we create from, what we come through, what we emerge from as human beings when we take on this life,â€ Harjo said. â€œAnd often, I donâ€™t think most people in the world, when theyâ€™re writing, or most writers in the world, think okay, am I writing as a Jewish person today? You just do it. You just write.â€
Harjoâ€™s writing has also been described as uniquely spiritual. Kathleen West praised In Mad Love and War in Nebraskaâ€™s Prairie Schooner, saying it has â€œthe power of beauty and prophecy and all the hope of love.â€ And John Scarry commented on her poetry in World Literature Today, calling her a â€œpoet of myth and subconscious.â€
Harjo said writing was not always something she wanted to do. But she came to that point after a moment of crisis in her life, and felt moved to respond. â€œThe spirit of poetry came to me,â€ Harjo said, â€œand said well, Iâ€™m going to take pity on you. You donâ€™t know how to listen, you donâ€™t have grace; you need what I can teach you. And thatâ€™s when I started writing.â€
Harjo has written ever since. And over the years, she said, her writing has changed her. â€œItâ€™s constantly teaching you,â€ she said. â€œAnd if you pay attention, itâ€™s basically growing your spirit. Itâ€™s something thatâ€™s ongoing. It never ends. Itâ€™s taught me about patience, itâ€™s taught me about wildness, about being open and free at the same time, you know, being very, very disciplined.â€
Harjo also teaches writing. She said she sees it as a practice â€“ just like music or living as a human being. She said itâ€™s partly about architecture and hammering together a structure, and itâ€™s also creating a space for the spirit of creativity to come in.
â€œEvery cell has a little light in it,â€ she said. â€œI think everything in this world has that. Weâ€™re all part of that. Weâ€™re all part of the creative process.â€
Harjo has authored a memoir, Crazy Brave, which will be published by Norton next summer. She said it tells the story from before she was born, until the point she began to write. Harjo is also a musician, who plays the saxophone, in the band Poetic Justice. She will perform and read from poetry, essays, and excerpts from her memoir at the University of Nebraska Omaha on Thursday, Nov. 17 at 7:30pm.
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