University Times

A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

Award-winning Poet Joy Harjo Visits Campus as Jean Burden Poet of Honor.

Poet+Joy+Harjo+sharing+her+work.
Back to Article
Back to Article

A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

Poet Joy Harjo sharing her work.

Poet Joy Harjo sharing her work.

Cal State LA Facebook

Poet Joy Harjo sharing her work.

Cal State LA Facebook

Cal State LA Facebook

Poet Joy Harjo sharing her work.

Anthony Karambelas, Staff Reporter

Hang on for a minute...we're trying to find some more stories you might like.


Email This Story






Her eyes alone brim with creative energy. Just one glance and you lose yourself in a world of poetry, story, song, dance, and join in on her celebration of indigenous culture. Her deeply stirring and sometimes disturbing imagery evokes a strong sense of commitment to her ancestral roots. Last week, Cal State LA was graced with her presence.

On Monday, Harjo began by attending an hour-long Q&A session in Professor Karen McDermott’s composition class. There she answered the questions of a group of students who had been studying her work since the beginning of the term.

Harjo touched on many aspects of her personal history. She related to students how she always used to be shy, sitting in the back row of her classes at the Institute of American Indian Arts. It was there that she first pursued her passion for poetry.

In spite of her struggles as a teenage mother, she wound up attending the University of New Mexico to further pursue her passion.

“I think the only reason they helped me get in the school was because I said I was going to be pre-Med. If I’d said I was going to be an artist, maybe, because there’s a lot of native artists. If I’d said I wanted to study poetry, no one would help me,” said Harjo.

Harjo always felt that music was inextricably tied to poetry. Muskogee chants, she pointed out, are all performed with accompanying music. It was this love for music that led Harjo to pick up the saxophone.

“I think it was given to me to help me overcome my shyness even more because the sax is really noisy,” she said.

As it turned out, her full-blood Creek Indian grandmother, who grew up in Indian territory, also played the sax. Even more so, the instrument brought her closer to home.

In the 90s, music stepped into the driver’s seat of Harjo’s life. She formed a band called Joy Harjo and Poetic Justice, named after two band members who were Native attorneys. Performing live opened up a whole new world of possibilities for her.

“I started breathing a lot more rhythmically and then I started to sing. The first time I tried to sing, you know when you get done with something and you know it wasn’t good and you have people kind of shying away from you and trying not to look at you disdainfully. That’s what happened, and it turns out I was singing out of tune,” said Harjo.

Though Harjo’s music and poetry are closely inspired by her familial ties, her personal identity remains one of unusual conflict.

“My dad’s family was very upset when he married my mom because they had Indian oil money, they were principal chiefs. And they had status and were educated. So, that comes to a kind of collision in me because of those things,” said Harjo.

Regardless, the Muskogee Nation, to which Harjo belongs, remains supportive of her work. She feels comforted that people at least know her, which is more than she can say about several academic voices writing on Native American culture. Still, not everyone agrees with her work.

“There’s always going to be people who think that women should stay in the kitchen. Well, I still write poetry in the kitchen. My last song I’ve been working on, I wrote in the kitchen table,” said Harjo.

Currently, Harjo is working on a musical that will show Southeastern native people as part of the story of jazz and blues. She expect to finish this Spring. Recently, she helped start a mentorship program for young women of her tribe ages fifteen through twenty-five in the arts.

Harjo concluded her Q&A session by providing advice for aspiring writers and artists.

“Unplug and write. Listen. It’s always good to go and hear what other people are doing. If you’re a poet, go to art shows, go to musical events. I think it’s good to have a focus and areas of study,” she said. “Even if you’re not an artist, just keeping a notebook or something so that you have a place for your spirit to express itself. If you’re worried somebody’s going to get it, you can burn it or bury it.”

Upon leaving McDermott’s class, Harjo was quickly whisked off to lunch with such distinguished company as President William Covino, Dean Rennie Schoepflin of the College of Arts and Letters and Cross Cultural Centers director Frederick Smith.

Harjo impressed her compliments upon Covino for the campus’ incredible diversity, which she contrasted from the demographic of a white-dominated Knoxville, Tennessee, where she teaches English.

Later in the day, Harjo delivered a moving reading and saxophone performance to a packed room in the Golden Eagle Ballroom. Afterward, she generously signed copies of her work for attendees.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Leave a Comment

If you want a picture to show with your comment, go get a gravatar.




Navigate Left
  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    University Celebrates The Year of the Pig

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Andy Garcia Electrifies the Luckman

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Redefining Artistic Expression

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Exploring Cultures Through Art

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Christmas Time is Near and The Grinch is Here

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Electrify Offers Platform for Creative Students

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Convergence & Divergence

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Roma, un filme del cineasta mexicano Alfonso Cuarón, enfrenta retos en la pantalla grande

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    Get Your Art Fix: Student Work Highlighted

  • A Poet’s Day at Cal State LA

    Arts

    The Dead Live On

Navigate Right
The student news site of California State University - Los Angeles