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Program Poetry & Literature

Living Nations, Living Words

As the first Native U.S. Poet Laureate, I decided that my signature project should introduce the country to the many Native poets who live in these lands. Our communities innately shared and share poetry from before the founding of the United States to the present.

We understand poetry to be a living language—whether it is in our tribal languages, or in English, or another language. We use poetry to mark transformations, as in love letters, elegies, or epithalamium. Poetry can be useful for praise and even to help deter a storm. Or poetry is a tool to uncover the miraculous in the ordinary.

We are intimately involved in our communities, which may be on our reservations or in the cities and often both. We are like everyone else. Some of us stay rooted. Others travel and even live internationally. This holds true for our individual approaches to the art of poetry.

The “Living Nations, Living Words” project features a sampling of work by 47 Native Nations poets through an interactive ArcGIS Story Map and a newly developed Library of Congress audio collection.

Keep in mind that each of the featured poets has many poetry ancestors as well as young poets who have or will follow in their footsteps. There are connections between all of the poets in “Living Nations, Living Words”—and connecting influences between these poets and many, many other Native poets who do not appear here, and many, many American and world poets from the present and generations before.

As you explore, you too will be connected.

Joy Harjo
23rd Poet Laureate of the United States