If, like me, you were on vacation last week, you might have missed the news that Joy Harjo has been named Poet Laureate of the United States. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and the first Native American poet to serve as laureate.
The poet laureate of the United States is appointed annually by the Library of Congress. Over the course of the one-year term, which lasts from September to May, the U.S. poet laureate presents a reading and lecture at the Library of Congress and often engages in a community-oriented poetry project with national reach.
“Poetry is the art that is closest to music,” says Harjo. “Poetry is the voice of what canâ€™t be spoken, the mode of truth-telling when meaning needs to rise above or skim below everyday language in shapes not discernible by the ordinary mind. It trumps the rhetoric of politicians. Poetry is prophetic by nature and not bound by time. Because of these qualities poetry carries grief, heartache, ecstasy, celebration, despair, or searing truth more directly than any other literary art form.”
Harjo is the author of several poetry collections, most recently Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (Norton, 2015), and the memoir Crazy Brave (Norton, 2012). She is the recipient of the 2017 Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize from the Poetry Foundation, the 2015 Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets, and the 1991 William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, among other honors. On Monday, Poets & Writers, the nonprofit organization that supports writers worldwide, awarded Harjo the $65,000 Jackson Poetry Prize.
Harjo follows Tracy K. Smith, who served as U.S. Poet Laureate from 2018-2019.