*Afterthought #118: Living Nations, Living Words

Joy Harjo, U.S. Poet Laureate

As the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, and the first Native poet to serve in the role,  Joy Harjo committed to introducing the country to the many Native poets who live here.  Here’s how she describes the importance of poetry for Native people:

“We understand poetry to be a living language—whether it is in our tribal languages, or in English, or another language. We use poetry to mark transformations, as in love letters, elegies, or epithalamium. Poetry can be useful for praise and even to help deter a storm. Or poetry is a tool to uncover the miraculous in the ordinary.”

Several gifts resulted from Harjo’s effort, and I’ve just started delving into them.

~ Living Nations, Living Words is an anthology featuring work by 47 Native poets, including Natalie DiazRay Young BearCraig Santos Perez, Sherwin Bitsui and Layli Long Soldier. Harjo selected poems on the themes of place and displacement, with four touchpoints in mind: visibility, persistence, resistance, and acknowledgment.

~ An interactive ArcGIS Story Map – each location marker on the map reveals a Native Nations poet with an image, biography, and a link to hear the poet recite and comment on a poem. I clicked on the upper left-hand corner of the map, where my home is, and listened to Cedar Sigo recite and discuss his poem, “Old Man House, Suquamish.”


~ A newly-developed Library of Congress audio collection – another way to listen to Native poets read and discuss their work.

I have much to learn—and unlearn—about Indigenous peoples in the U.S. Once again, I’m turning to poets to guide me.

*Afterthoughts are my blog version of a practice followed in some Quaker meetings. After meeting for worship ends, people continue in silence for a few more minutes during which they’re invited to share thoughts or reflect on the morning’s worship. I’ve adopted the form here for last-day-of-the-month brief reflections on headlines, quotes, books, previous posts, maybe even bumper stickers and refrigerator magnets.

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