Co-sponsored by University of California Berkeley’s Arts Research Center and Engaging the Senses Foundation, with additional support from the English and Ethnic Studies Departments, the Native American Studies Program, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, and the Center for Race & Gender at UC Berkeley
Event Description: During this time of crisis, poetry is more vital than ever. Join us online on April 22 for an evening of reading and conversation with Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, as she responds to ARC’s Poetry & the Senses theme of “emergency” on Earth Day 2020. Joy is the first Native American to hold the US Poet Laureate position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Joy Harjo is an internationally known award-winning poet, writer, performer, and saxophone player of the Mvskoke people/Muscogee Creek Nation. She will be in conversation with Beth Piatote, writer and associate professor of Native American Studies at UC Berkeley. This reading is free and open to the public and available live captioned and live streamed.
We are thrilled to share an opportunity to join us for an online evening of reading and conversation with Joy Harjo, the 23rd U.S. Poet Laureate, at the invitation from UC Berkeley’s Poetry & the Senses initiative. In response to the initiative’s current theme of “emergency,” Joy will perform her work and engage in conversation with Beth Piatote, writer and associate professor of Native American Studies at UC Berkeley, on Earth Day 2020 from 5:30-7 p.m. PST. Please sign up for your free tickets here.
Poetry & the Senses is one of Engaging the Senses Foundation’s most exciting new endeavors. Created in partnership with UC Berkeley’s Arts Research Center. Poetry & the Senses is a 2-year initiative in which poetry— including poetic and mindful modes of engaging with the world— will be the central focus of creative investigation across the UC Berkeley campus and the community. The theme of “emergency” was developed before Covid-19 began its world-wide spread. It asks: What kinds of poetic modes of address might be recruited in times of global catastrophe? How does poetry help us think through and within crisis? “Emergency” implies urgency, sudden harm, life-threatening violence, and extreme circumstances, but embedded within it is the word “emergence;” suggesting rebirth and new beginnings. How can we understand moments of emergency as catalysts for renewal, as ruptures that signal massive—if painful—change? Presciently, this is the exact issue we are dealing with Now in relation to the worldwide pandemic. Our present moment calls from all of us the most thoughtful, hopeful, creative, and innovative responses possible.
Powerfully positioned to speak to just such a time and theme, Joy Harjo is an internationally renowned performer and writer of the Muscogee Creek Nation, who was named the 23rd Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019. She is the first Native American to hold the U.S. Poet Laureate position. The author of nine books of poetry, several plays and children’s books, and a memoir, Crazy Brave, her many honors include the Ruth Lily Prize for Lifetime Achievement from the Poetry Foundation, the Academy of American Poets Wallace Stevens Award, a PEN USA Literary Award, Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund Writers’ Award, a Rasmuson U.S. Artist Fellowship, two National Endowment for the Arts fellowships, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. She is a chancellor of the Academy of American Poets and is a founding board member of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation. Joy directs For Girls Becoming, an arts mentorship program for young Mvskoke women.
Recently, Joy shared that she was using this stay-at-home time to write.She has been playing her saxophone regularly, having realized some years ago that the desire to play came to her both out of the need to to take care of her lungs as well as to honor the musical spirits of John Coltrane, Jim Pepper, and Gato. Working on her next memoir, songs, and a musical, she is also taking this rare opportunity of a world slowed down to spend time in introspection, prayer, and imagining.
This is an example of self-care and mindfulness that we can all learn from, coming as it does from an individual who has given so much of her life to the world. Her work has changed the inner and outer landscape for so many of us, and the time she gives to it gives us much to look forward to in the upcoming months and years! We are both grateful and fortunate that she’s devoting part of her energy to this Earth Day gift of her presence.
In the meantime — from her monumental new book American Sunrise — comes this poem that speaks to the part of us that knows we are part of the earth:
I had a beautiful dream I was dancing with a tree.
Some things on this earth are unspeakable: Genealogy of the broken— A shy wind threading leaves after a massacre, Or the smell of coffee and no one there—
Some humans say trees are not sentient beings, But they do not understand poetry—
Nor can they hear the singing of trees when they are fed by Wind, or water music— Or hear their cries of anguish when they are broken and bereft—
Now I am a woman longing to be a tree, planted in a moist, dark earth Between sunrise and sunset—
I cannot walk through all realms— I carry a yearning I cannot bear alone in the dark—
What shall I do with all this heartache?
The deepest-rooted dream of a tree is to walk Even just a little ways, from the place next to the doorway— To the edge of the river of life, and drink—
I have heard trees talking, long after the sun has gone down:
Imagine what would it be like to dance close together
In this land of water and knowledge. . .