"I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry," the 68-year-old poet said.
J. Vespa / Contributor
- Joy Harjo is a poet, author and musician, and is an active member of the Muscogee Nation.
- Poet laureates are charged with overseeing poetry readings at the Library of Congress, and with promoting poetry to the nation.
- Harjo succeeds poet and educator Tracy K. Smith.
The Library of Congress has named Joy Hargo as the United States' 23rd Poet Laureate for 2019-2020. Harjo – a poet, author, musician and member of the Muscogee Nation – is the first Native American to hold the title.
"Joy Harjo has championed the art of poetry—'soul talk' as she calls it—for over four decades," Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden said in a release. "To her, poems are 'carriers of dreams, knowledge and wisdom,' and through them she tells an American story of tradition and loss, reckoning and myth-making."
Harjo, 68, began writing as a college student, during "the beginning of a multicultural literary movement" that made her realize poetry was available to everyone, she told The New York Times. "It became a way to speak about especially Native women's experiences at a time of great social change."
Since, she's written more than eight books of poetry, a memoir and two childrens' books.
Watch & listen to poet & musician Joy Harjo discuss the importance of poetry, her Native American heritage & her ne… https://t.co/w8sOMgZSeO— Library of Congress (@Library of Congress)1560970801.0
"What a tremendous honor it is to be named the U.S. poet laureate," Harjo said in a Library of Congress press release. "I share this honor with ancestors and teachers who inspired in me a love of poetry, who taught that words are powerful and can make change when understanding appears impossible, and how time and timelessness can live together within a poem. I count among these ancestors and teachers my Muscogee Creek people, the librarians who opened so many doors for all of us and the original poets of the indigenous tribal nations of these lands, who were joined by diverse peoples from nations all over the world to make this country and this country's poetry."
Harjo's poems often touch on nature, womanhood, definitions of self, fear, grief, generations, spirituality and Native American culture.
"My poems are about confronting the kind of society that would diminish Native people, disappear us from the story of this country," she told the Times.
In poetry performances, Harjo is known for singing and inflecting her voice, giving her a uniquely musical style. Outside of poetry, Harjo has toured with the bands Poetic Justice and Arrow Dynamics, and she's released five albums of original and award-winning music, on which she sings and plays the saxophone.
Harjo told the Times she's "still in a little bit of shock," and doesn't yet know what she'll focus on during her time as poet laureate – appointees are asked to oversee poetry readings at the Library of Congress and promote the art to the country.
Harjo said poetry has the power to connect people together.
"Just as when I started writing poetry, we're at a very crucial time in American history and in planetary history," Harjo told the Times. "Poetry is a way to bridge, to make bridges from one country to another, one person to another, one time to another."
Here's one of her poems, entitled "Grace".
I think of Wind and her wild ways the year we had nothing to lose and lost it anyway in the cursed country of the fox. We still talk about that winter, how the cold froze imaginary buffalo on the stuffed horizon of snowbanks. The haunting voices of the starved and mutilated broke fences, crashed our thermostat dreams, and we couldn't stand it one more time. So once again we lost a winter in stubborn memory, walked through cheap apartment walls, skated through fields of ghosts into a town that never wanted us, in the epic search for grace.
Like Coyote, like Rabbit, we could not contain our terror and clowned our way through a season of false midnights. We had to swallow that town with laughter, so it would go down easy as honey. And one morning as the sun struggled to break ice, and our dreams had found us with coffee and pancakes in a truck stop along Highway 80, we found grace.
I could say grace was a woman with time on her hands, or a white buffalo escaped from memory. But in that dingy light it was a promise of balance. We once again understood the talk of animals, and spring was lean and hungry with the hope of children and corn.
I would like to say, with grace, we picked ourselves up and walked into the spring thaw. We didn't; the next season was worse. You went home to Leech Lake to work with the tribe and I went south. And, Wind, I am still crazy. I know there is something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people. We have seen it.
- In 1848, Edgar Allan Poe wrote a book outlining his theory of everything.
- Modern readers will find many familiar concepts, including the Big Bang and multiple universes.
- While it has little real scientific merit, it does have a solution to Olbers' Paradox.
Poe's Theory of Everything
In 1848, Poe gave a lecture titled "On the Cosmography of the Universe" to a crowd of 60 somewhat confused listeners. This lecture formed the basis of what would become Eureka: A Prose Poem; an obscure little masterpiece that had a run of a mere 50 copies.
Essentially a metaphysical work, Poe lays out a vision of a Newtonian universe that uses very different assumptions than those which were common when he was writing. While most physicists at the time presumed the universe was static, infinite, and eternal, Poe instead argued that God created a "primordial particle" which divided into all the matter we see today and then expanded from its initial position to spread across space. More than a few people have noticed the similarities of this idea to the Big Bang theory.
He doesn't stop there. He then suggests that gravity, to him the attractive force caused by the primordial oneness of everything, will cause the universe to collapse upon itself into another primordial particle; which is reminiscent of the Big Crunch. He even muses that this could be part of an endless cycle of expansion and contraction, which today we call the oscillating model.
In other sections, he touches on the idea that "space and duration are one" which some see as a prediction of relativistic "space-time" and muses on the interchangeability of matter and energy. Toward the end, he suggests that our universe could be one of many that exists on an infinite plane — one of the earliest references to other universes.
In another section, he devises the first working solution to Olbers' Paradox; the problem of why the sky gets dark at night if the universe is infinitely old, vast and evenly populated with stars.
The paradox is that if those three things were true, which many astronomers thought they were, then the night sky should be very bright. No matter what direction in the sky you look at, you should be looking at a star which has had eternity to shine down on Earth.
Poe was the first to solve the paradox by suggesting that the observable universe is finite in size and that the light from stars beyond the furthest point we can observe just hasn't gotten here yet. Astronomer Edward R. "Ted" Harrison explained in his book Darkness at Night that this is the first plausible solution and that Eurkea anticipated similar arguments put forth by Lord Kelvin in 1901.
So, is it a towering work of science?
No, far from it. Most critical analysis concludes that his work has no scientific merit for several reasons.
Poe makes assertions where are factually inaccurate, not the least of which is his claim that Kepler arrived at his laws of planetary motion by guesswork rather than by analyzing the data recorded by Tycho Brahe. He spends a great deal of time satirizing both empirical and deductive methods of rigorously looking for truth and as a result is less than rigorous and convincing when he tries to address potential objections.
His work is also purely Newtonian and does not fully anticipate relativistic theory as shown when he calls his work "geometrical" and proposes that there is pre-existing space that the material universe expands into, which modern physics rejects. Because of issues like these, Eureka is fundamentally metaphysical or even mystic in nature and reads more like a pre-Socratic attempt to explain the cosmos than a scientific work. Empedocles' ideas on the cosmos come to mind while reading it.
However, his predictions are uncanny and show a non-casual relationship with modern science. The astronomer Alberto Cappi ascribes this to his assumption of an evolving universe, which most of his contemporaries, and even later thinkers like Albert Einstein, rejected. Cappi concludes, however, that with the advance of astronomy past what Poe had to work with, all that is left is a metaphysical work that anticipates some relativistic notions while remaining an outdated Newtonian model. He summarizes this by saying:
"Eureka is not a crank nor a scientific theory. It offers us a fascinating vision of the Universe by an imaginative mind, which using the science of its time could conceive of the most revolutionary cosmology of the 19th century."
Most interestingly though, Dr. Cappi explains that Alexander Friedmann, the scientist who first proposed that Einstein's theories implied that the universe was expanding, was an avid fan of Poe. While it can never be known if he read Eureka, it is fun to imagine that Poe influenced a physicist who would so radically shake our view of how the universe works.
It is worth noting that Poe's solution to Olbers' Paradox is commonly referenced and he is often given credit for his solution.
Is this the only time this has ever happened? Are there any other cases of somebody doing this?
"Prediscoveries," defined by author Tom Siegfried as "instances of theoretical anticipation," are relatively common in science. The physicist James Clerk Maxwell argued that invisible forms of radiation must exist and was proven right nine years after his death when radio waves were discovered.
The philosopher Immanuel Kant was one of the first to declare that heavenly bodies such as Andromeda were "Island Universes" and not nebulae inside our galaxy, that idea wouldn't be confirmed until the middle of the 20th century. Democritus is often credited as the father of modern atomic theory for his writings on the subject around 400 BCE.
Poe's work, however, is only admired for his take on Oblers' paradox. Dr. Cappi ascribes this lack of love to the metaphysical nature of the work, its often seemingly arbitrary assumptions, its limited printing, and the fact that a poet's argument for an expanding universe would have been dead on arrival in 1848.
Should Edgar Allan Poe be included in the lists of great cosmologists? Probably not, but Eureka is a curious pre-relativistic model of a consistent, expanding cosmos all the same. It is worth reading both for its own merits as a "prose poem" and as the blueprint for a strange universe not so different from our own.
Quoth the parrot — "Squawk! Nevermore."
- Edgar Allan Poe (1809–1849) is considered one of America's great writers.
- Poe penned his most famous poem, The Raven, in his 30s.
- Originally, the poem's feathered subject was a bit flamboyant.
By his mid-30s, Edgar Allan Poe was not only weary by the hardships of poverty, but also regularly intoxicated — by more than just macabre visions. Despite this, the Gothic writer lucidly insisted that there was still a method to his madness when it came to devising poems.
In an essay titled 'The Philosophy of Composition', published in 1846 in Graham's Magazine, Poe divulged how his creative process worked, particularly in regard to his most famous poem: "No one point in [The Raven's] composition is rerferrible either to accident or intuition… the work proceeded step by step, to its completion with the precision and rigid consequence of a mathematical problem."
That said, contrary to the popular idea that Edgar Allan Poe penned his poems in single bursts of inspiration, The Raven did not pour out from his quivering quill in one fell swoop. Rather it came about through a calculative process — one that included making some pretty notable changes, even to its avian subject.
As an example of how his mind worked, Poe describes in his essay that the bird that originally flew across the dreary scene immortalized in the poem was actually… a parrot.
Portrait of Poe.
Image: Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Poe had pondered ways he could have his one word refrain, "nevermore", continuously repeated throughout the poem. With that aim, he instantly thought of a parrot because it was a creature capable of uttering words. However, as quickly as Poe had found his feathered literary device, he became as concerned with the bird's flamboyant form as its important function.
And as it turns out, the parrot, a pretty resplendent bird, did not perch so well in Poe's mind because it didn't fit the mood he was going for — melancholy, "the most legitimate of all the poetical tones." In solving this dilemma in terms of imagery, he made adjustments to its plumage, altogether transforming the parrot by bestowing it with a black raiment.
"Very naturally, a parrot, in the first instance, suggested itself, but was superseded forthwith by a Raven, as equally capable of speech, and infinitely more in keeping with the intended tone," Poe explained in his piece in Graham's. "I had now gone so far as the conception of a Raven — the bird of ill omen — monotonously repeating the one word, 'Nevermore,' at the conclusion of each stanza, in a poem of melancholy tone…"
It was with these aesthetic calculations that Poe ousted the colorful bird that first flew into his mind, and welcomed the darker one that fluttered in:
In there stepped a stately Raven of the saintly days of yore;
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door—
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door—
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.
Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore…
The details of the poem — including the bird's appearance — needed to all blend together, like a recipe, to bring out the somber concept he was trying to convey: The descent into madness of a bereaved lover, a man lamenting the loss of a beautiful woman named Lenore. With that in mind, quoth the parrot — "nevermore" just doesn't have the same grave effect.
If you'd like to read more about Edgar Allan Poe, click here to review how his contemporaries tried to defame him in an attempt to thwart his success.
The stories we tell define history. So who gets the mic in America?
- History is written by lions. But it's also recorded by lambs.
- In order to understand American history, we need to look at the events of the past as more prismatic than the narrative given to us in high school textbooks.
- Including different voices can paint a more full and vibrant portrait of America. Which is why more walks of American life can and should be storytellers.
Saudade: the untranslatable Portuguese word that names the presence of absence and takes melancholy delight in what's gone.
'I pray for friends I've lost, family, like my uncle who passed away,' Bruno told me. We were chatting in the nave of the Church of the Santa Cruz of the Souls of the Hanged, a small Catholic church in central São Paulo. Built near the old city gallows, regulars go there to pray to the dead. 'When I'm here, I feel well,' he said. 'I even feel that the other side is well.' Bruno told me there was something special about the place, that it left him with a 'sensation'. 'The fact that you're remembering, recalling someone that did right by you, it leaves you with even more saudade,' he told me.
Saudade is a key emotion word for Portuguese speakers. Though akin to nostalgia or longing, the term has no direct equivalent in English. As the Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil sings in 'Toda saudade', it is the presence of absence, 'of someone or some place – of something, anyway'. One can have saudades (the singular and plural forms are interchangeable) for people or places, as well as sounds, smells, and foods. One can even have saudades for saudade itself. That is because 'it is good to have saudades' (é bom ter saudades), as the common saying goes. There is a certain pleasure in the feeling. Though painful, the sting of saudades is a reminder of a good that came before.
Writing in 1912, the Portuguese poet Teixeira de Pascoaes defined saudade as 'desire for the beloved thing, made painful by its absence'. It is an acute feeling, often described as occurring in the heart. The language of saudade is evocative. Portuguese speakers complain of 'dying of saudades' (morrendo de saudades), or wanting to 'kill saudades' (matar saudades) by fulfilling desire. Though hyperbolic, the word's morbid poetics throw light on how affective ties make for a meaningful human life.
Popular tradition relates saudade to the feeling of distance and loss suffered by the families of men off at sea during the age of Portuguese discoveries. While this folk history captures the term's poetic ambivalence, its etymology is unclear. The archaic form soidade appears in 13th-century troubadour verses recounting the laments of distant lovers. Most scholars suggest that this form derives from the Latin solitate (solitude), and was possibly later influenced by the Portuguese word saudar ('to greet') before arriving at the present form. But some scholars have offered alternative etymologies, including one that traces saudade to the Arabic sawdā, a word that can denote a dark or melancholy mood. It is a high-stakes debate: saudade is integral to Portuguese self-understanding, and the question of the word's origins reflects deeper concerns about Portuguese ethnicity and identity.
Saudosismo, an early 20th-century literary movement, was largely responsible for establishing saudade as a marker of Portuguese identity. Founded two years after the 1910 republican revolution that ended a centuries-long monarchy, Saudosismo promised cultural renewal during a time of uncertainty. In 'The Making of Saudade' (2000), the Portuguese anthropologist João Leal writes that Saudosistas sought to restore the 'lost splendour' of Portuguese cultural life, 'replacing foreign influences – held to be responsible for the decline of the country since the Age of Discoveries – with a cult of "Portuguese things", reflecting the true "Portuguese soul".' Hailing saudade as the authentic expression of the 'Lusitanian spirit', the movement put the emotion at the cult's centre.
Portuguese speakers commonly boast that saudade is untranslatable. Though an old claim – King Duarte of Portugal (who reigned 1433-38) asserted saudade's singularity as early as the 15th century – the Saudosistas are responsible for its ubiquity today. In the movement's manifesto, Pascoaes repeated the claim that the term could not be translated, and asserted that 'the only people who feel saudade are the Portuguese'. Linking the feeling to Portuguese ethnogenesis, he argued that saudade's sublime union of desire and pain reflected the 'perfect synthesis' of Aryan and Semitic blood that obtained in the Portuguese people. Though contemporaries pointed to close equivalents in other languages, Pascoaes's nationalist embrace of saudade appealed to a cultural elite trying to find its way.
Are there culturally specific emotions? At issue is whether the emotions signified by words such as saudade are unique to particular cultures, or instead whether humans everywhere can experience the same range of emotions but recognise and emphasise those emotions differently based on the cultural availability of certain emotion concepts. The psychologists Yu Niiya, Phoebe Ellsworth and Susumu Yamaguchi suggest that 'emotions named by a language may act as magnets for emotional experience, attracting undefined feelings' toward well-known concepts. This would also mean that emotion words such as nostalgia or saudade take on different affective shadings in different places and historical periods.
Brazilian intellectuals have often distinguished their saudade from that of the Portuguese. In 1940, the Brazilian writer Osvaldo Orico described Brazilian saudade as 'more happy than sad, more imagination than pain … a saudade that does not cry, but sings'. Orico's notion of a happy saudade reflected the joyous, optimistic notion of brasilidade ('Brazilian-ness') that emerged during the early years of the first Getúlio Vargas regime (1930-45). But saudade can also be critical or resentful. In his 2017 study of saudade in Brazilian cinema, the cultural studies scholar Jack Draper at the University of Missouri writes that midcentury directors such as Humberto Mauro deployed saudade for rural folk life as a way of commenting on developmentalism and rural-urban migration. And in today's divisive political climate, some conservatives openly express saudades for Brazil's military dictatorship, which they imagine as the antidote to rife corruption, violence and economic distress.
But can one really feel saudades for a dictatorship, empire or any other polity? Or is it that the word is so cherished, potent and prevalent that it is easily used for political ends? Perhaps both. Because if devotees such as Bruno at the Church of the Souls tell us anything, it is that saudade is always a pleasure and an indulgence. It is a feeling that manages to give, despite being a confrontation with what has been taken away. It is revelatory: when caught in saudade's grip, we become aware of that which is most important to us, that which makes us what we are.
This article was originally published at Aeon and has been republished under Creative Commons.