A unique blend of poetry, music and storytelling marked the 55th Annual Wallace Stevens Poetry Program on Wednesday evening as acclaimed poet Joy Harjo shared her storytelling gifts with the UConn community. Harjo’s reading displayed her poetic talents and inspired the students and faculty gathered in the Dodd Center.
Before even beginning her reading, Harjo brought up the interesting concept of “poetry ancestors,” an interconnected web of the poets that have come before, the poets that write now and the young people just beginning to discover their gift for poetry. Harjo also included the native peoples of America in her discussion of poetry ancestors, noting that they too called this land their home. To recognize these peoples and to celebrate poetry, Harjo played a song on her flute.
A member of the Muscogee Nation, Harjo’s poetry is influenced by Native American themes and reflects her culture’s aptitude for storytelling. One of the first poems Harjo read was “Rabbit Is Up To Tricks,” a poem that uses a scheming rabbit to portray themes of man’s greed and insatiable desire. This trickster of a rabbit creates a clay man and teaches him how to steal, but when the man begins to act on his own, Rabbit realizes that he cannot call the man back because he has made the clay man with no ears.
“Rabbit felt important and powerful. The clay man felt important and powerful. And once that clay man started he could not stop,” Harjo read. The trickster figure of the rabbit, Harjo explained, acts as a “fierce mirror for human behavior.”
Before reading another poem, “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies,” Harjo discussed challenging oneself and pushing oneself to explore new territories in one’s writing.
“It’s important that whatever you do, you challenge yourself to go somewhere that you haven’t gone before,” Harjo said.
“This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” reflected this sentiment of challenging oneself in one’s personal relationships.
“The door to the mind should only be open from the heart. An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend,” Harjo read from her poem, echoing the idea that many are reluctant to make peace with their sworn adversaries.
Harjo ended her reading with her poem “Equinox,” the words of which she sang more than spoke. The poet explained that the poem was about letting go, about freeing oneself of hardship.
Student poets appreciated the reading, expressing the inspiration that they find in Harjo as a great poet and storyteller.
“I feel closer to the natural world when she speaks, and I think she wants that to happen…. It’s honestly a beautiful thing. And if she hears this, I want to thank her for it… I think she’s fantastic,” Aner Bajraktarevic, a fourth-semester communications major, said.
“Me being a poet myself I feel like hearing her journey… is really inspiring for me as a writer,” Bajraktarevic said.
The Wallace Stevens Poetry Program that honors Harjo this year aims to celebrate poetry on the UConn campus and in the Hartford area. As a part of this program, Harjo will also be reading at the Greater Hartford Academy of the Arts on Thursday, March 29 at 1:30 p.m.
Stephanie Santillo is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.