Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Writing and Revising

Joy Harjo

Lesson time 09:56 min

Joy moves fluidly on and off the page—from poetry and memoir to song and music. She shares what inspires her to land on one form over another, her sense of discovery, and how she always takes time to play.

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Topics include: Writing and Revising * Writing Things Down * Reading Aloud to Shift Your Hearing * Discovery Is Important * Is Your Poem Doing Its Job?


[MUSIC PLAYING] - Revision is really the main part of writing. Poems don't just pop out. Lines might, even whole stanzas, but I consider that the raw material. Constructing a poem is often almost like collage, and I work off of, in a kind of call and response, different moments, different lines, different ideas. [MUSIC PLAYING] I keep different notebooks. This is one of them. I'm not like some people, where they have one nice, little notebook, that they date and write wonderful things in it every day. Some of my notes are more poetic. I've spaced them out for phrasing. Narrative, dream-speak, ancestor-speak, narrative, newspeak, political rhetoric, metaphor-speak, female-speak, narrative, plant-speak, animal-speak, element-speak-- this is all material. It gives me an idea to work off of. I'll read this one little section. I could consider that a very, very, very early draft of a poem about being on the subway. It's already got some cool elements. There's a swaying, packed subway train that is an urban snake-- see, there you have an image-- of wheels and belly at the feeding hour. I wasn't on the train while I was writing this. I was at home, thinking about being on that uptown train in New York City at 5 o'clock. And I was taken by a man who had a lunch box at his feet. And again, thinking about oppositions, thinking about me and my life and looking at him and thinking, I don't want to make any kind of judgment, thinking that maybe he is making judgment of someone like me. But I wanted to understand him. And suddenly on that train, that I was remembering years back, I felt an incredible love flow through me for that man. It was something about understanding him. I held a moment of comprehension of his life, the beauty of it, the bruteness of it, and the power of it. And I was trying to write that down. There's a slant of going-home sun that makes a fickle shadow of all that's been undone with furious longing. His lunch box is at his feet, shackled in work boots. I could essentially kind of take something like this and construct, use that for a construction of an idea in a poem. What I was trying to work for, and I never got that far, was how everything changed, like my judgments. And I didn't-- how do you put judgment in a-- I like to stay away from it, but what I wanted to get in there was what my judgment-- there was a certain judgment and how I moved away from that. There's something about writing things down, which is using the energy of your thought, moving through your body, that helps you remember things. [MUSIC PLAYING] So one thing I like to do, if I have a draft of a poem, is to read it aloud. Reading, taking a poem from the page from writing it to reading it aloud, I catch almost everything. There's levels of reading aloud. There's the first level, where you're reading aloud to yourself, so you hear it inside, even though you're reading it, and you hear it outside. But ...

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.

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