NEW YORK — Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be named U.S. poet laureate, has been ready for a long time.
“I’ve been an unofficial poetry ambassador — on the road for poetry for years,” the 68-year-old Harjo wrote in a recent email to The Associated Press. “I’ve often been the only poet or Native poet-person that many have seen/met/heard. I’ve introduced many poetry audiences to Native poetry and audiences not expecting poetry to be poetry.”
Her appointment was announced Wednesday by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, who said in a statement that Harjo helped tell an “American story” of traditions both lost and maintained, of “reckoning and myth-making.” Harjo’s term is for one year and she succeeds Tracy K. Smith, who served two terms. The position is officially called “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry,” with a $35,000 stipend. Harjo will have few specific responsibilities, but other laureates have launched initiatives, most recently Smith’s tour of rural communities around the country.
“I don’t have a defined project right now, but I want to bring the contribution of poetry of the tribal nations to the forefront and include it in the discussion of poetry,” said Harjo, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “This country is in need of deep healing. We’re in a transformational moment in national history and earth history, so whichever way we move is going to absolutely define us.”
Pendleton poet Shaindel Beers said she was thrilled Harjo is the country’s first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate.
“We can all learn so much from her,” Beers said.
Beers recalled Harjo visited her undergraduate college and was the first poet she met in person.
“And I’ll never forget she asked me, ‘Are you a poet? You look like a poet,’ Beers said. ”It changed my life.”
The poet laureate is not a political position. Harjo makes clear her disdain for many office seekers, however, in her poem “For Those Who Would Govern.” She also has expressed her views on President Trump. In 2016, she linked to a Newsweek article about then-candidate Trump’s overseas business connections and tweeted, “Donald Trump’s foreign ties may conflict with U.S. national security interests.”
Last summer, she linked to a New York magazine article about Trump and Russia, and tweeted: “What If Trump Has Been a Russian Asset Since 1987?”
The East Oregonian contributed to this story.