May 9, 2012

Eagle Poem

by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self
To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon
To one whole voice that is you.
And know there is more
That you can't see, can't hear
Can't know except in moments
Steadily growing, and in languages
That aren't always sound but other
Circles of motion.
Like eagle that Sunday morning
Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky
In wind, swept our hearts clean
With sacred wings.
We see you, see ourselves and know
That we must take the utmost care
And kindness in all things.
Breathe in, knowing we are made of
All this, and breathe, knowing
We are truly blessed because we
Were born, and die soon, within a
True circle of motion,
Like eagle rounding out the morning
Inside us.
We pray that it will be done
In beauty.
In beauty.

"Eagle Poem" by Joy Harjo, from In Mad Love and War. © Wesleyan University Press, 1990. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

Today is the birthday of the novelist Richard Adams (books by this author), born in Wash Common, England (1920). He was working as a civil servant, and he had two young daughters, for whom he often made up stories. They were preparing for a long car trip when one of the girls told him he had to make up a new story, a long one that would last the whole journey. He began to spin a yarn about a band of rabbits escaping the destruction of their warren. There was Fiver, a weakling and a prophet; along with Hazel and Bigwig, inspired by two soldiers Adams had known during the war.

The story lasted the trip and more, and when it was done, Adams' daughter Juliet said, "You ought to write it down, Daddy. It's too good to waste." He did, taking nearly two years, and it was rejected by many publishers as too grown-up for kids and too simple for adults. A small publisher finally accepted it, but only printed a small initial run and couldn't afford to pay Adams any advance. After notable positive reviews, sales took off and within a couple of years, Watership Down (1972) had sold more than a million copies.

Today is the birthday of Native American poet Joy Harjo (books by this author), born in Tulsa, Oklahoma (1951). She's a member of the Mvskoke [Muscogee] Creek Nation. Her grandmother was a painter, and her mother a singer. Harjo says she always knew she wanted to be an artist in some way. She attended a boarding school in Sante Fe, New Mexico run by the Bureau of Indian Affairs. It was called the Institute of American Indian Arts, and it drew creative kids from all over the country. Harjo was into fashion design at the time, and later changed her major to drama and dance. She studied studio art in college and then she was accepted into the Iowa Writers' Workshop. She packed up her two small children and everything they owned into the back of a pickup truck and headed north.

Her poetry is influenced by her background in music and visual arts. She said: "I have always begun with dancing, heard singing, and it always goes back to rhythm. The poems have always started that way. The rhythm, or the beat, even drives the image...My contention is that music, poetry, and dance came into the world together. Civilization in the form of the printing press forced them apart."

In addition to her numerous books of poetry, Harjo has written two books for young readers. A memoir about her childhood called Crazy Brave is due out this summer.

It's the birthday of poet and essayist Charles Simic (books by this author), born in Belgrade, Yugoslavia (1938). His family survived the bombing of Belgrade during World War II and fled Eastern Europe after the war was over, moving first to New York, which Simic said "looked like painted sets at a sideshow in a carnival," and then to Chicago, which he described as "a coffee-table edition of the Communist Manifesto, with glossy pictures of lakefront mansions and inner-city slums." Eventually, the family wound up in Oak Park, Illinois, and Simic went to the same high school Ernest Hemingway had gone to. His first ambition was to be a painter; he didn't start writing poetry until his last year of high school, publishing his first poems in 1959, when he was 21. Since that time he has published nearly three dozen books of poetry, many translations and works of prose, and served as the poet laureate of the United States.

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  • “Writers end up writing stories—or rather, stories' shadows—and they're grateful if they can, but it is not enough. Nothing the writer can do is ever enough” —Joy Williams
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