Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal
Compassion, empowered women and the many faces of love provide insights into the poems and remembrances in Joy Harjo’s memoir “Poet Warrior.”
Reading the book is a magical ride.
“Blending many elements – I think that’s how my life is,” said Harjo, Muscokee/Creek, who is entering her third term as the U.S. poet laureate. “Most writers I know are tremendously writerly with everything focused on literary study, etc. My life is not like that.”
Harjo is widely known for her writing – poetry, children’s books, memoirs, and fiction. She sees writing and music meshing with everything else in her life – her large family, her politics, the environment.
“I have to think of it as one large story field all fitting together,” she said in a phone interview from her Tulsa, Oklahoma home. “It’s representative of how I move and think. Poetry is part of everything else. Right now, poetry is doing the heavy lifting.
“And I love all kinds of music,” she continued. “Lately I’ve been teaching myself piano, guitar.”
On her recent album, “I Pray for My Enemies,” she performs her compositions on saxophones, flutes and bass.
“Poet Warrior,” the second memoir in a planned trilogy, contains recollections of family, colleagues and mentors she thinks of as challenges rather than hardships.
“Writing about them is always difficult until the writer has a bent for it,” she said. “When I write about different things I try to keep a perspective of compassion. We never know the whole story.”
Poetry and stories are stitched together throughout the memoir. In the opening part, “Ancestral Roots,” Harjo writes a poem of hopefulness about a Girl-Warrior who “will learn how to make/Right decisions by making wrong ones…You will find yourself again.”
Harjo speaks about her mother “who loved words, especially the way they could move with music. …” in her songwriting and her poetry.
Harjo recalls as a youth finding a poem of Emily Dickinson’s she liked to read aloud : “I’m Nobody! Who are you?/Are you – Nobody – – Too? /Then there’s a pair of us!”
Harjo loves the biblical psalms, which she considers poems. Psalm 23, “The Lord is My Shepherd,” “was a prayer poem of protection. …The rhythm quickens and I imagine a leader who loves me…” she writes.
The part titled “Becoming” shows the author’s hunger for ritual during her coming-of-age; she believes ritual creates belonging. In the part “A Post-Colonial Tale,” Harjo writes that she didn’t plan to be a poet. She began to write poetry at the same time she was creating art and attending feminist events with other Native students of the University of New Mexico’s Kiva Club. The seed of her poetry had come from the Old Ones in her tribal nation in Oklahoma. It emerged when she was with fellow Indian artists at school in Santa Fe before blossoming with friends in the Kiva Club. Hearing Simon Ortiz of Acoma Pueblo read his poetry led Harjo to use poetry as a tool for justice. His work brought her to the poetry of Leslie Marmon Silko of Laguna Pueblo, resulting in Harjo writing a poem about Navajo activist Alva Mae Benson and then produced an interest in several African poets.
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Sandra Cisneros’ publisher identifies her lively, compact new book, “Martita, I Remember You,” as a story. Reviewers call it novella.
“Novella is fine with me because it has a density you find in a novel. To me, it doesn’t qualify as a short story,” Cisneros, a MacArthur Fellow, said in a phone interview from her home in San Antonio, Texas. The book’s narrator is Corina, nicknamed Puffina, a Mexican-American from Chicago who dreams of becoming a writer sitting in Parisian cafes just as Americans had done in the 1920s. However, during the short time Puffina is in the French capital, she runs out of money, sleeps where she can find an empty pad and barely survives a frigid winter.
The most memorable passages are the vignettes of the friendships Puffina develops – lovingly remembered in correspondence years later – with two other young women leading hardscrabble lives – Martita, from Argentina, and Paola, from Italy.
Cisneros said the novella originated with a trip she made to the City of Lights, and that there’s some of her in all three female characters. She hopes readers will think of “Martita,” as relevant to current immigrant issues in the United States.
The book has a dual language title. In English it’s “Martita, I Remember You.” In Spanish, “Martita, te recuerdo.” Cisneros feels it’s the right time to publish a bilingual book for adults. “We are now understanding the public and how many Latinos buy books,” she said.
Cisneros’ famous 1984 novel “The House on Mango Street,” is one of the choices for the current National Endowment for the Arts’ Big Read. At the same time, “Mango Street” is being adapted into an opera. Cisneros is writing the libretto and Derek Bermel(cq) the music.
Sandra Cisneros will be in conversation with Carmella Padilla about “Martita, I Remember You” at 6 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 12 in a Zoom event through collectedworks bookstore.com