Photo Series: U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo visits UWL

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Pamphlets from the Joy Harjo event. Photo taken by Alexia Walz.

Alexia Walz, Multimedia Editor

On Thursday, Oct. 21, at 7 p.m., current United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo visited the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse to read poetry and discuss moments from her career, including her most recently published memoir, Poet Warrior. Along with the aforementioned memoir, Harjo has written one other memoir, nine poetry books, several plays and children’s books, and five musical albums.

She is a member of the Muscogee Nation and her work includes themes about her identity. Harjo is the first Native U.S. Poet Laureate and she is currently serving her third term in the position. She is the second person in the history of the position to do so.

As U.S. Poet Laureate, Harjo is the official poet of the United States. She travels around the country to raise awareness and appreciation for the art of poetry. Her visit to UWL is one of her events as the appointed Poet Laureate.

The event, which was held in Centennial Hall, was sponsored by Viroqua’s Driftless Writing Center, UWL English department, the College of Arts, Sciences and Humanities and the Provost’s office. The event was open to the public and live-streamed for those who could not attend in-person.

A few hours before the public event, a pre-visit celebration was held in the Student Union. The event was invite-only, with faculty, creative writing students and Native American Student Association members in attendance. For the entirety of the Q&A, Harjo answered questions about her life, her writing technique and her Native identity. She also read some excerpts from Poet Warrior. 

Harjo wrote the book non chronologically and organized it into six sections. About the unconventional organization of the memoir, Harjo said, “My literary editor said I reinvented memoir. I didn’t set out to reinvent memoir, but I just do what I do and I’ve always done that with my poetry too. It has never fit exactly anywhere.”

English professor Matt Cashion hosted the event Thursday night. A representative of Driftless Writing Center who is also on the organization’s board of directors, Jennifer Morales made a statement before Harjo was formally introduced. “When I first heard that Joy Harjo–poet, musician, activist–would be the first Native American to be named the U.S. Poet Laureate, I was excited. Not just because she is an extraordinary observer of the world, but because I thought, ‘Here’s another push for us to talk about who is an American, who represents the United States,'” said Morales.

During the first 45 minutes of the event, Harjo read a few of her poems, including “Without,” and “Rabbit is up to Tricks.” Harjo said, “I don’t know why, whenever I come up north it always sets off poetry, these long poems.” She wrote “The Woman Hanging From The Thirteenth Floor Window,” which she read during the event, while she was in the north.

Then, Harjo answered questions from audience members. Questions ranged from advice about writing from an older age to how to “feed the spirit of poetry”. Harjo plays saxophone and flute and has released albums of spoken word poetry. During the Q&A, she revealed that she started learning saxophone at age 41. She said that playing saxophone is similar to poetry because of the phrasing.

After the question and answer session, Harjo signed copies of Poet Warrior. The memoir was also available to purchase at the event.

To learn more about Harjo’s career and to purchase her books, click here.

To learn more about the organization that co-sponsored Harjo’s event, Driftless Writing Center, click here.

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