Joy Harjo

LitWatch Monthly: It’s National Poetry Month

April marks National Poetry Month – along with eight of the most exciting ways for you to celebrate

A poet’s work is to name the unnameable, to point at frauds, to take sides, start arguments, shape the world, and stop it going to sleep.” Salman Rushdie

April marks National Poetry Month, a 30-day-long event created in 1996 by the American Academy of Poets to honor poetry writers across the country and spark an increased appreciation for poetry in the United States. This year marks the 25th anniversary of an event that has become one of the largest literary celebrations in the world. 

Poetry has been continually making its way into mainstream media and the world of television commercials and radio ads, particularly so after the spellbinding success of National Youth Poet Laureate Amanda S.C. Gorman’s internationally broadcasted poem recitation during President Joe Biden’s inauguration. It is important to remember that as poetry becomes increasingly popularized, its true preservation will come from our everyday actions. Just as the greatest poetry comes from the minds of ordinary people seeking to “shape the world, and stop it going to sleep,” the greatest advocacy for poetry comes not from commercial conglomerates, but from the dedicated patronage of individuals. 

We should remind ourselves that to keep our favorite bookshops open, we must each choose to purchase their books. To keep our independent presses publishing, we must subscribe to their publications. To keep our poets writing, we must endeavor to show our support for the work they do to further the literary world. 

In honor of National Poetry Month, I have created a list of eight great ways to celebrate, appreciate, and support Oregon poetry this April, in addition to a full calendar of literary events. Enjoy!

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Women on the move: These are the days, again

ArtsWatch Weekly: History moves into the forefront, a new series on Indigenous resilience, it's film fest time, a month of culture

ON SATURDAY THE DOOR BETWEEN THE PAST AND PRESENT CREAKS OPEN JUST A LITTLE BIT: After months of coronavirus shutdown and a couple of bouts of vandalism during protests in the South Park Blocks, the Oregon Historical Society reopens its downtown Portland center to visitors on a limited basis, joining such other Oregon museums and historical sites as Salem’s Hallie Ford Museum of Art, Bend’s High Desert Museum, the Grants Pass Museum of Art, and Portland’s Pittock Mansion, which has also just reopened on a limited basis. The historical society will be open noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays until further notice: Know the rules before you go

Abigail Scott Duniway voting for the first time, May 5, 1913, in Portland. The sister of Harvey Scott, the conservative editor of The Oregonian, she was a leading early suffragist and his political foil. Photo: Oregon Historical Society

MARCH IS WOMEN’S HISTORY MONTH, and one of the big exhibits you’ll find at OHS is Nevertheless, They Persisted: Voting Rights and the 19th Amendment, which tells the story of the fight by women to win the right to vote. One of the movement’s prime figures in Oregon was Abigail Scott Duniway, a Portland suffragist and the sister of the stolidly conservative Harvey Scott, longtime editor of The Oregonian, whose statue in Mt. Tabor Park was torn down from its pedestal in October and recently, in a mysterious guerrilla art action, replaced by a handsome bust of York, the Black man who was a slave of William Clark and traveled with Clark and Meriwether Lewis on their expedition to the Pacific Ocean in 1805. Among other things, Scott was a steadfast opponent of women’s suffrage. Sometimes, what goes around comes around.

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LitWatch Monthly: Joy Harjo and author conversations

March marks another full calendar of author conversations and virtual workshops, including a seminar on the work of United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

I came into poetry feeling as though, on some level, these words were not just mine but my grandparents’, their parents’.”
― Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is America’s first Native American Mvskoke Nation Poet Laureate. Named the 23rd United States Poet Laureate by the Library of Congress in 2019, she is the second-ever poet to serve three terms in this position. Her third term, beginning this Spring 2021, brings forth a new digital signature project, Living Nations, Living Words. This unique project will feature a fully interactive map of First Peoples Poetry, focusing on 47 different Native American poets by mapping their works and locations nationwide.

Harjo first began writing poetry in 1973 at the age of 23. Before becoming one of the country’s most beloved living poets, she attended the University of New Mexico to study medicine. Inspired by her heritage, the company of artists around her, and the beauty of New Mexico’s landscape, Harjo changed her major to art before penning her first book of poems, The Last Song, in 1975.

Joy Harjo has continued to inspire many artists and writers throughout her long and successful career as both a poet and musician, describing her work as “a memory on which to build.” Her latest book of poems, An American Sunrise, is a breathtaking collection about the beauty of her native homeland and the forced displacement of her own ancestors. This new book of poems will be the topic of an upcoming six-session-long seminar presented by Literary Arts and Delve Readers Seminars called Joy Harjo: American Sunrise. Each Thursday from March 25 to April 29, writer and educator Danielle Frandina will lead participants in the reading of Harjo’s 2019 release An American Sunrise and her 2012 memoir Crazy Brave.

23rd United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. Photograph by Karen Kuehn.

Open to all poetry lovers, the Joy Harjo: American Sunrise workshop will offer an engaging look into the works and early life of Harjo, examining how themes of ancestry, repetition, and loss exist within her work. On Tuesday, April 20, participants of this course will also be given access to Harjo’s much anticipated live lecture as part of the Portland Arts & Lectures Series.

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