Joy Harjo, who is reading at the National Museum of the American Indian's Indigenous Poetry: Resilience event.
Credit: Shawn Miller/Library of Congress.

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Indigenous Poetry: Resilience

After being largely kept out of the American canon, Native poetry finally gained its own Norton anthology just last year; current U.S. poet laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee/Creek) edited it. The volume and her work as poet laureate dismantle the stereotypes that she writes “keep indigenous peoples bound to a story in which none of us ever made it out alive,” presenting the rich variety of Native poetic production and its geographic and historical range. For National Poetry Month, Harjo joins poets Kealoha (Native Hawaiian), Natalie Diaz (Mojave/Akimel O’otham), and Jamaica Heolimeleikalani Osorio (Native Hawaiian) for a Smithsonian-hosted virtual reading and discussion. Kealoha and Osorio are storied slam poets in addition to their written work—Diaz was named a National Book Award finalist for her 2020 collection, Postcolonial Love Poem. Harjo’s own poems weave the mundane and the otherworldly into something dazzling. “Deer Dancer” brings the reader into a dive, “the bar of broken survivors.” “It was the coldest night of the year, every place shut down, but / not us. Of course we noticed when she came in. We were Indian ruins. She / was the end of beauty.” The poem shimmers, turning a woman dancing on a bar table into a dreamlike vision—the alchemy we come to poetry to find. The reading and discussion is available through April 30 on YouTube. Free.