Oklahoma's Soul Talker: US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo
TULSA - You may not know her face or voice, but you've likely read her words. Joy Harjo is one of the most celebrated poets in America and the next US Poet Laureate.
Harjo is the first Poet Laureate from Oklahoma and the first Native American to have the title.
“Yeah to be the first Native American poet laureate is an immense responsibility but there's so much opportunity for getting people together and saying here we are, we're human beings,” Harjo said sitting in her Tulsa workshop space at Tulsa’s Artists Fellowship.
Growing up a member of the Muskogee-Creek nation in Tulsa, she moved to New Mexico, her love of art leading her to enroll in the Institute of American Indian Arts.
“No I always drew and painted, I didn't write poetry until the early 70's in my mid-20's,” Harjo said.
She traveled the southwest and spent some time in Hawaii but eventually came home, bringing her poems with her. Harjo's imagery of the American southwest, Oklahoma and Native American life is some of the most vivid and haunting in the literary world. She calls it soul talk.
“For me it was a language I went to when every day talk didn't do. And so often in our languages, I know in our tribal languages there's kind of an everyday language and then there's kind of a heightened language that you use when you're talking about things that are precious or need a special way to hold information or hold knowledge or even hold love.
A poet, a playwright, an author and a musician for four decades Harjo has been a vocal advocate for women, Native Americans and the Native American experience including the painful history of native tribes in the United States. Much of her work focuses on putting a spot light on that history.
During her term as America's soul talker, she’s hoping Americans do some soul searching too.
“We need to learn to listen to each other right now across any boundaries or borders or lines. Because ultimately if you look with your spirit eyes those boundaries or borders are not there.”
Poet Laureates design their own projects to promote poetry in the US. Harjo says she is working on her own right now which she'll reveal during the Library of Congress's annual poetry lecture in September.