Thursday, July 26, 2012
As you may have noticed, just a few days ago I posted a lovely poem by Joy Harjo. Then I was moved to write a "response" poem, based on my imaginary reading of her face as depicted in her accompanying picture. And then--two days ago--I learned that she was reading in my city from her new book, "Crazy Brave," and of course I attended.
I discovered that in person she is quite different from what I had supposed from this particular picture. She is, in fact, quite relaxed, charming, full of wit and humor. I also realized (again) that we had some experiences in common. Like Joy, I was born in and grew up in Oklahoma. Like her, I, as a child, was chosen to sit on the quilts atop the hand cranked ice cream freezer that was packed with ice. However, although I grew up in Oklahoma, where many of the tribes were then located, I had little or no contact with Native Americans in my home town or elsewhere, and, to be frank, although the state contained many towns named for particular tribes (Shawnee, Pawnee, Chickasha, Choctaw), most of the (white) citizens had little awareness of the connections between those names and their derivations, much less of the terrible circumstances that brought these original inhabitants of this country into our state when they were forcibly relocated from the eastern part of the country. The early white settlers had come there seeking land, and it did not occur to them that great injustice had occurred to make those lands available to them, when treaties were broken and even more land was taken forcibly from the natives.
Joy attended a special school in New Mexico as a teenager. This school (which was created for native Americans) stressed the arts, and she attributes her career as a musician and writer to this part of her background. Later she attended the Iowa Writers' program for further training as a poet and prose writer. Like many, she believes that inspiration for creative work comes from "elsewhere,' not from the presumed originator/author.
She read many fascinating stories from "Crazy Brave," which has just been published. Many deal with the traumas she suffered growing up, and the writing of this volume was doubtless quite cathartic for her. It is extremely well written, with much humor and charm--a delightful compendium of descriptions of what it was like to grow up as a daughter of native tribes in Oklahoma and elsewhere during a time when "native American" was not a term of endearment.
Joy has become well known for her poetry in especial, but "Crazy Brave" is a well crafted and fascinating book. I recommend it highly.
(image from google--"poems outloud)