Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Mapping Representation

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 09:19 min

Joy talks about her work as the U.S. Poet Laureate on the Living Nations, Living Words project, a digital mapping of contemporary Native poets located at the Library of Congress. She discusses how we use poetry for the most important rituals of our lives and urges you to use poetry to map your own soul.

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Topics include: Mapping Representation * Living Nations, Living Words * Case Study: “A Map to the Next World” * Mapping Your Soul


 JOY HARJO: "There is a map, a series of maps that are there and have always been there. They are transparent and layered one on top of another, one generation over another. The lines of connection are relentlessly weaving, patterning, rhythmically, mythically, and historically by image, sound, and sense. Each map is a being with a mouth and detail, even as it is a field of ocean or grass. They are making helixes of memory. Memory is always moving." I'm trying to remember the first time I saw a map, probably one of those old roadmaps, that old. Now we go on GPS and pull things up. But I love the maps where you could look and see where you are, where the mountains are, the names of rivers, a road. I don't go to poetry to answer questions. I go to poetry to investigate, like what are we doing here. This flower, this plant over here has an idea, might have a better idea than I do. Where do I belong? Do I fit? I don't feel like I fit anywhere, yet I'm here and I fit somewhere. I feel like I fit when I'm writing a poem in my own mapped universe or unmapped universe. I love the idea of having directions and have wondered, why didn't we come with a map. Yeah. And so I feel like almost with these poems they write or songs, they're showing me a place. [MUSIC PLAYING] Because this mapping thing so intrigues me that when I became poet laureate and was asked about a project, I decided to do a mapping of contemporary native poets and worked with the geography and maps department at the Library of Congress and also with the Folklife Center. And it's a digital map that is on the side of the Library of Congress that can be used by many classes for teaching poetry, literature, American literature, native literature, also for different social studies classes. I picked out a map that had no political boundaries to be the map on which to place contemporary American poets. And it's so beautiful, because it's Earth and water. You don't see a border between Mexico and the US. And there is no border between Canada and the US. It's just the land and the water, which makes its own kind of statement. There's no disruption in the land. And the native poets are placed in different geographical locations. We have 47 of them, which is only a fraction of the number of contemporary native poets writing in the country. We also have an anthology book that includes those poems, "Living Nations, Living Words." Each poet picked where they wanted to be. Some people are in their homelands where they were. Some people were removed by the United States government off their original lands. Other people move for other reasons. Indigenous peoples are the root peoples of this country. And we have had so much influence in the culture. Everything from the government and how democracy in the United States is set up to the origins of blues and jazz were part of that story, but we have not been included in that stor...

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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