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Journal, Day One

By Joy Harjo

t’s late Sunday night in Honolulu. We are night sky, dark ocean, and a poetry of lights from here to Waikiki. Writing a blog is a little like writing poetry, songs, stories, or anything creative. You set out with stars, wild trust, and more than a pinch of fierce spark.

Tonight a few trade winds join us. They all have names in Hawaiian. I don’t know them yet but I recognize many of them. Some of the winds are predictable, reliable, and familiar. Others are strangers, travelers. One night a lost, young male wind rattled, pushed and blew at the house, this side of the mountain, before careening away, out over the Pacific.

Just a week ago about this time, I was winding down from a performance for the Taos Summer Writing Program at my room in the Sagebrush Inn. Pam Houston’s Irish Wolfhound Fenton remembered the prairie dog town from the year before and placed her dignified paw on the door as a definite signal for: “I want to go out now and shake up the town.”

Pam let her out.

“She doesn’t eat the prairie dogs. She just likes to chase them.”

I would love an Irish Wolfhound or two as muses, guardians, or friends. They are real dogs and would never be mistakenly stepped on as house slippers. But I travel too much—even my late pet angelfish, Anela, made it clear that leaving her was unacceptable. She would drop her fins every time I pulled my suitcases out to the living room. She sulked. It took time, and a few frozen shrimp snacks to snap her out of her mood, which she always held until a day after I returned. And she was characteristically moody, a fish diva, who loved to be admired. She also suffered from horrible PMS. Yes, a fish with PMS. That’s another story.


I have many topics, possibilities, or paths in mind for the week. They include:

1) How to stand up in front of an audience and perform poetry after a couple of nights of jetlag insomnia, a long drive, and a loss of faith in poetry, performance, and national leadership.
2) What happens when you are abandoned by Poetry or abandon Poetry (depends on point of view and who’s telling the story to what audience—everything’s context) because love is slipping away, and you don’t inspire each other anymore?
3) A poetry manifesto.
4) Getting caught in the abyss between poetry and song lyrics.
5) Is it possible to write poetry, prose, screenplays, music, and make some kind of artistic headway?
6) What does my tattoo mean? (Once after an inspired one-hour talk with an auditorium of college students, when I had even impressed myself with astute, intuitive insights (said Rabbit), brought on by a cup of mean, black coffee. And it was 9AM EST and 4AM body-and-mind time: “What does your tattoo mean?” was the first question to disturb the provocative silence. At least it wasn’t a question about sweat lodges, or Pawnee geomancy. As a poet who is American Indian, or Mvskoke, exactly, I am expected to know everything about the over 500 native cultures in the U.S., and be able to expound on particular cultural-spiritual aspects of each. I work now and then with a booking agency for bands out of the Bay Area. The owner says he gets the strangest calls for me, people who want to know if I will perform with my band, and teach a workshop on basket making.
6 1/2) No.
7) What do the horses mean? (This goes with number 6.)
8) Revision and process, process and revision in the making of humans, and poetry.
9) The power of the word: truth or esoteric hope?
10) The habits of writing, or the non-habits of writing.
11) Is it possible to be a mother with a full-time job or two, and write?
12) Poetry can be fickle; is a tough god. And will flee from lack of respect, wrong diet, malaise, sarcasm, flippant disregard, and too much television. And strangely poetry will often serve well those who least deserve it. We know those stories. We are in the realm of a trickster god. In this realm a magician musician who abuses his fellow players and uses girlfriends like toilet paper can bring carry genius joy in music to huge adoring audiences and earn money and fame.
13) Which takes us back to the flawed relationship between humans and poetry—
14) And brings us to Fourteen Ways of Looking at Poetry.

And more.


Good night or good morning. And, a P.S./disclaimer: this is a journal, only. Forgive the rough.


And for good measure, from one of the real poets of our times, Stanley Kunitz:

“When you look back on a lifetime and think of what has been given to the world by your presence, your fugitive presence, inevitably you have to think of your art, whatever it may be, as the gift you have made to the world in acknowledgement of the gift you have been given, which is the gift of life itself. And I think the world tends to forget that this is the ultimate significance of the body of work each artist produces. It is not an expression of the desire for praise or recognition, or prizes, but the deepest manifestation of your gratitude for the gift of life.”

Posted in Uncategorized on Monday, July 17th, 2006 by Joy Harjo.