Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Honoring the Source

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 13:09 min

Everybody confronts similar questions: What are we doing here? How did we get here? What’s going to happen next? The mystery of not knowing often brings us to poetry as a way to help us navigate those big questions and craft our origin stories. Joy teaches us to take a breath and honor our unique identities and memories by story gathering and using objects to tap into our personal mythology.

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Topics include: Honoring the Source * Your First Breath * Story Gather for Source Material * Use Objects to Tap Into Personal Mythology * Case Study:“Once the World Was Perfect” * Origin Stories Can Be Malleable * Case Study: “Mythology” by Earle Thompson


INSTRUCTOR: One of the most important things is to honor your story. I remember sitting in a poetry class and people in being a certain poet, because they had such an incredible story. They had a story of being kicked out of a country and the family moving here and there. And then, if you hold your origin story up, it might look a little meek or appear a little meek or not as exciting. But every origin story is so particular. It's about finding the particulars. Every origin story has a place and has a place that it shines. So it's important, as you move through memory, to realize when you're making memories, and how are you making them? Writing poetry is part of making them with attention, but everybody has a story. You know, honor it. Honor it, even the hard parts. I think that was one of the first things that poetry taught me was that I went to poetry to try to, I think, in the beginning to try to find a place of refuge, and then poetry taught me that all parts matter. Poetry is so connected with breath. Breath is how is our promise. It says, OK, I'm taking in this breath, and now, I become a human being. And I become somebody. I'm at the beginning of a map or a pathway into the world. It's rhythm. It's meaning. It's mystery. It's history. It's all the good, bad, ugly, and beautiful all at once, which is what happens when we take that breath. Because there are no guarantees. And just like this story, or when you're writing poetry, you don't go into it to guarantee something final or absolute. You know, I come to poetry because of the questions, and there's no one answer to any question. It's to investigate the questions or to investigate contradictions, because it's a contradictory world. Yes, we're in a world of polarity, of opposition. But there's all the millions of possible colors, and sounds, and tones in between. So then the question is like, where do I start? You can start anywhere, which is helpful when you're feeling especially chaotic, and I know I get into this thinking, OK, where do I start? I've missed everything up. This is a horrible draft, or this song is going to go nowhere. You know, I'm lost, but you can take a breath. You can write one word, and you start going. And you follow. It's like you follow the breath. Or the breath is going to take you to the story, or to a sound, or to a place, or to a moment. I've come to the conclusion that what human beings were put here to do is story gather. We take what knowledge we gather and put it into stories, so I do a lot of research. Some of that research is in reading history, reading mythology, but a lot of it, most of our knowledge isn't in books. And it's good to talk to people who know things. Some of those people are children, you know? A cousin of mine, I like to go to his house and visit, and he knows a lot of the old stories. So that's one way to get source material for a poem is to story gather. Even some old stories, if you lo...

About the Instructor

As the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo has written poetry that explores her personal experiences, the history of her ancestors, and social change. Now she’s teaching you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper motivation. Explore rhythm in art, navigate the world of revisions, and unlock your innate creativity to help you express your unique stories.

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Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, teaches you how to find the language to express yourself and approach your art with deeper meaning.

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