Sunday, November 02, 2008

A Dream Filled with Language


Last night the City Library offered a Dewey Lecture with poet and musician Joy Harjo, a multi-talented artist who is both an internationally known poet and a player of an Indian flute as well as the saxophone, which she said she learned to play at 40. She's played her original and native music around the world, and has been featured by Bill Moyers and Garrison Keillor. Her performance in Salt Lake last night was part of the award-winning PBS series American Experience called "We Shall Remain." We were privileged to see a film clip last night as part of the program. It will air in the spring of 2009. Be sure to watch for it!

Jo Harjo is a native American of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation. Her poetry (interlaced with lyrical Indian melodies) is both simple and eloquent and real. When someone asked her, during the short Q & A time at the end, what her imagery of horses, "means, exactly," Ms Harjo said you can never explain to someone what your imagery means, exactly. She told us not to look to hard for a meaning in poetic imagery (something akin to what Robert Frost said, that a poem should not mean, but be.) "Poetry," she said, "is a dream filled with language."

She said the image can be transformational. She spoke of the true power of the word, of the true danger of the word, and the true beauty of the word. And of what a journey poetry is. Here is one of her poems, from her book, How We Became Human:

IN PRAISE OF EARTH

We kept on dancing last summer though the dancing had been called subversive.
We weren't alone at the end of this particular world and knew
it wouldn't be the last world, though wars
had broken out on all sides.

We kept on dancing and with us were the insects who had gathered at the grounds
in the grasses and the trees. And with us were the stars and
a few lone planets who had been friends
with the earth for generations.

And with us were the spirits who wished to honor this beloved earth in any beautiful manner. And with us at dawn was the Sun who took the lead
and then we broke for camp, for stickball
and breakfast.

We all needed praise made of the heart's tattoo as it inspired our feet or wings, someone to admire us despite our tendency to war, to terrible
stumbles. So does the red cliff who is the heart
broken to the sky.

So do the stones who were the first to speak when we arrived. So does the flaming mountain who harbors the guardian spirits who refuse to abandon
us. And this Earth keeps faithfully to her journey, carrying us
around the Sun,

All of us in our rags and riches, our rages and promises, small talk and suffering. As we go to the store to buy our food and forget to plant, sing so
that we will be nourished in turn. As we walk out
into the dawn,

With our lists of desires that her gifts will fulfill, as she turns our tears
into rivers of sweet water, we spiral between dusking and
dawn, wake up and sleep in this lush palace of creation,
rooted by blood, dreams, and history.

We are linked by leaf, fin, and root. When we climb through the sky to each
new day our thoughts are clouds shifting weather within us.
When we step out of our minds into ceremonial
language we are humbled and amazed,

at the sacrifice. Those who forget become the people of stone who guard
the entrance to remembering. And the Earth keeps up her
dancing and she is neither perfect nor exactly in time.
She is one of us.

And she loves the dance for what it is. So does the Sun who calls the Earth
beloved. And praises her with light.

*

7 comments:

January said...

I love this poem. Thanks for posting it.

I heard Joy Harjo read at the Dodge Festival--she's amazing.

petra michelle; Whose role is it anyway? said...

Absolutely breathtaking, Joyce. Thank you for sharing her profile.
Will definitely be on the alert for her. Have you ever heard of
Joanne Shenandoah? If you enjoy Enya, you'll enjoy her. She is of
the Iroguois and has the most beautiful voice. She too has spoken and sings of the native american way.
p.s. Yes, the votes were traditional with the exception of Jack Nicholson as Frankenstein. It was so nice seeing you again, Joyce. If you have the time, I hope you enjoy "Going Commercial."
Petra :))

Michelle said...

Oh wow, Joyce, you've made my day. A breathtaking poem!

Joyce Ellen Davis said...

January, I remember seeing her hame on your list of readers and thinking how I'd love to hear her. I didn't know at the time that she would be coming here!

Petra, I love Enya, and will look up Joanne, for sure!

Michelle, I love this poem, too--glad you enjoyed it.

Tammy said...

So beautiful Joyce! My son in law is a Native American Dancer on weekends. He lives and breaths his Mi-Wuk culture. TK is Tuni Kitkawu meaning "young blood."

Joy had great insights into poetry, thanks!

Enjoyed that 60 min. segment too.

HUGS

Dana said...

"Se spoke of the true power of the word, of the true danger of the word, and the true beauty of the word."

Yes. This is what poetry is about. It's about using language, flexing it, allowing it to expand our perceptions and reshape our consciousness.

I love her work. So glad you got to see her.

christine said...

She creates a beautiful poem-myth, really powerful, with sumptuous language. I especially love the first stanza:

We kept on dancing last summer though the dancing had been called subversive.
We weren't alone at the end of this particular world and knew
it wouldn't be the last world, though wars
had broken out on all sides.

Also what she said about a poem not needing to be 'understood.' That's a message that would help a lot of readers enjoy the experience of poetry even more. To feel, to experience.

Sounds like a wonderful evening, Joyce.