By Theresa Braine
That is very much the case with Native poetry. “Native people, especially those close to oral culture, are natural poets,” Harjo told Indian Country Today Media Network after a presentation that opened Native Innovation: Indigenous American Poetry in the 21st Century, a symposium that took place in New York City from March 21 to 24.
Native poetry is not merely beautiful; it also serves a valuable social function, said the storyteller, poet and author Joseph Bruchac. Like a pipe that is crafted with a face looking back at the smoker from the bowl, poetry reflects back on the reader.
“In our traditions there is a general feeling that poetry does make things happen,” Bruchac said. “There is circularity in poetry—it’s not something pretty and polished that you set on a shelf. We’re making an object that looks back at us, that looks beyond us.”
The symposium was co-sponsored by Copper Canyon Press and the University of Arizona Press, in partnership with the National Museum of the American Indian in Manhattan and with support from the Lannan Foundation. It kicked off with Crazy Brave: An Evening With Joy Harjo on March 21 at the museum. After reading from her acclaimed 2012 memoir Crazy Brave (Norton), Harjo spoke with Bruchac and fielded questions from members of an audience of about 100 people.
The ensuing event, which took place at Poets House in lower Manhattan, featured readings and discussions with such participants as Natalie Diaz and Orlando White, as well as readings by Santee Frazier, Cedar Sigo and Roberta Hill. Sherwin Bitsui, Karenne Wood and many others also gave readings. Bruchac and Allison Adelle Hedge Coke co-curated the event.