Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Imagery and Form

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 12:44 min

If traditional forms of poetry don’t resonate with you, explore other ways to tell your stories. In this lesson, Joy pushes you to free yourself from existing structures and make up your own by using figurative language and forms that reflect who you are.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Imagery And Form * Form Is Everywhere * Case Study: “We Were There When Jazz Was Invented” * The Power of Rhythm * Imagery Serves Purpose * Move Beyond the Predictable


[MUSIC PLAYING] JOY HARJO: If I had been told early on when I started writing poetry that you cannot write a poem, until you know all the rules, until you can recite so many poems, until you knew how to write in Western European verse forms, until you had all of that down. Then you could write your own poetry. I would never have become a poet, because my path is different. Everyone's paths are different. I felt on the outside quite a bit, and I had to make my own way. And my forms were not always the forms of the poems or poetry I was reading, and my way wasn't the way of most of the poets I was reading. I had to make a kind of peace with that in a way, or I could have blocked, in a way, my whole path. Every poem, whether it's free verse, or metrical verse, or syllabic verse, every poem has a form. They can be based on line links. They can be based on rhythm. It may be uneven, but the form always has to fit, somehow, the content. Or the poem doesn't work. Of course, I've heard a lot of people say, but poetry has to rhyme. That's another kind of form within rhymes, and end shapes, and open end rhymes, and closed in rhymes, et cetera, et cetera. You know, there's architecture. Even chaos has architecture. It's not something that maybe you would consider even or pleasing, but there's architecture. And I imagine that the architecture of chaos serves it exactly. I don't always think what form is this going to be. I just listen to and start writing it out, and then, in that play, in that back and forth, that give and take or that call and response, the form starts becoming evident. I got inspired by Luci Tapahonso, the Navajo poet, wrote a poem on sestina about weaving. The Navajos are known for their weaving, and I thought, how perfect? What I appreciate about the sestina form is that there's such discovery. You have six words that you repeat, and then there's a way of repeating. So you're weaving, weaving the poem, and what I liked about doing this is that I was working to that end word. So you wind up with several stanzas. So I picked the words dreams, jump, holy, back, birth, and bear. So the poem is built around those words, so it was quite a trick to write a line that would end on dreams. So then, in the next stanza, dreams becomes end line, and the second line, and so on. So this poem is we were there when jazz was invented, and this sestina worked really well for this poem. "We Were There When Jazz Was Invented. I have lived 19,404 midnights, some of them in the quaver of fish dreams, and some without any memory at all, just the flash of the jump from a night rainbow to an island of fire and flowers, such a holy leap between forgetting and jazz. How long has it been since I called you back after Albuquerque with my baby in diapers on my hip? It was a difficult birth. I was just past girlhood, slammed into motherhood. What a bear. Beyond the door of my tongue is a real, and I'm leaning over ...

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.

Featured Masterclass Instructor

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.

Explore the Class
Sign Up