Nearly 400 people tuned in Monday, Oct. 18, to listen to poems, book excerpts and music from U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo.
“Bringing Joy: Minanaawigwendamowin Biijigaadeg” was hosted by Fond du Lac Tribal and Community College and the American Indian Community Housing Organization.
A member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Harjo is serving her third term as U.S. poet laureate. She has published nine books of poetry and two memoirs, in addition to her work as a musician and playwright.
The evening kicked off with introductory remarks from several people, as well as the performance of an honor song by Lyz Jaakola, a media and music teacher at FDLTCC and a Cloquet city councilor.
Jaakola said the song was in honor of Harjo “and the beautiful work she does as poet laureate for the United States.”
Harjo visited the Northland virtually Monday from her home in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, she recalled an earlier visit to the Northland.
“We were talking beforehand about the moon on the water, and I could smell it and I could hear the quiet water and feel it,” she said.
Harjo read several of her poems, played a song from her album, “I Pray for My Enemies,” and read excerpts from her recently released memoir, “Poet Warrior.”
In between readings, she shared memories that inspired the pieces.
She started off with the poem “For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet,” which she said is what happens when the seasons change, for example.
“In a way, that’s what’s been going on in the pandemic. We had to call ourselves back for a while to remember who we are, what’s going on and to recognize the crisis that we’re in together and that we’ve been in together at so many levels and find ways to gather together and figure it out in ways that include the good of everyone,” she said.
Before reading a section of “Poet Warrior,” she talked with the audience about her time riding around Creek Nation with her aunt, Lois, to visit elders and hear their stories.
“That was one of my favorite things to do was to hear those stories,” Harjo said.
She also read another part of the memoir that relates specifically to a poetic voice called Girl Warrior.
It was a difficult section for Harjo to write because she didn’t have a coming of age ceremony.
“We all need those doorways,” Harjo said. “And so when I came to this part in the book that was difficult and painful to write, some part of me went back into time to bring people together to make that ceremony for this young woman that, yes, represents me, but also represents all of our young women coming of age who need a community.”
When she gets to tough subjects in her work, she said she doesn’t always know where her writing will take her.
And for Harjo, poetry is a type of ritual or ceremony.
“There’s the title that calls you in and then each line in a way brings a gift or brings something that is needed for that particular coming together of the poem,” she said.
At the end of the evening, FDLTCC President Stephanie Hammitt and Ivy Vainio of AICHO presented Harjo with gifts from local artists: a blanket designed by Sarah Agaton Howes of Heart Berry and a beaded medallion created by Chenoa Williams.
“Thank you. I’m so honored to be with you and your community. I’ve always had a good time with you guys,” Harjo said.
A recording of the event is available online at fdltcc.edu/bringing-joy/.
This story was updated at 4:35 p.m. Oct. 20 with the link to the recording of the event. It was originally posted at 4 p.m. Oct. 20.