Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Meet Your Instructor

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 05:24 min

When Joy was named the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, she was the first Native American poet to hold the title. But long before that, she was actively raising awareness about the lack of Native representation in the “American book of poetry”—because it contradicts the mythic storyline of America.

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JOY HARJO: Poetry has always been the language of prophets. It's always been the language of truth tellers. And sometimes the holy ones come through our poetry. I'm a member of the Muskogee Creek Nation, and I'm descended from people who fought against the illegal move of Native people from the southeastern US into Indian territory. We stood up with words. We stood up even in court. We still stand up in courts. But it's not ended. When I went into poetry, I knew that there was something about it that fed my spirit in a way unlike anything else. Even as it uses words as its tools, it goes where words cannot go. [MUSIC PLAYING] I grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I came to poetry through my mother writing songs at the kitchen table on her Underwood typewriter, the most incredible object in the house that we were not supposed to touch. So of course, you're most attracted-- you're most attracted and want to touch that object. Then she would do demos of her music, singing her songs, and I loved how that worked. One of my favorite books of poetry, when I was about eight years old-- It was a Louis Untermeyer "Golden Treasury of Poetry." That book was my refuge. One of my favorite places was hiding in the closet, and I could go in there and read. The poems made openings in the darkness. And I always remember reading Emily Dickinson-- "I'm Nobody. Who Are You?" Now, I didn't know who this Emily was. But at that point, I figured all these poets were from England, you know? Or somewhere in a far rainy East. That's how it was in my imagination. And yet her voice that voice spoke to me. "I'm Nobody. Who Are You?" It was a singular voice that cut through time. I started writing poetry when I was about 22. And I was a single parent, and people were concerned about me. Well, how are you going to make a living? But I followed it. - When did you know that poetry was your way in? - That was a shock, just like being named the US poet laureate. If somebody had told me then I would wind up being the first Native poet laureate, I wouldn't have known where to put it, you know? Where do you put this? What does that mean? I'm carrying this for America, but for Indigenous peoples in particular. History is stories. It's poetry. - The 23rd poet laureate consultant in poetry-- Joy Harjo. JOY HARJO: Those who have forgotten say trees are not sentient beings, but they do not understand poetry. Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by rain and music or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft. But the way I approach teaching of poetry is, really, here you are, and here's this incredible possibility in the art of poetry. Let's see what approaches. Let's see what's possible out there. This class can help you find your way to your innate creativity by the act of writing poetry, and there is no right or wrong. We'll be talking about imagery, writing, ...

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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