One of the things that I sometimes forget is how much culture I miss out on by apathetically forgetting to seek it out. Sarah Lawrence makes this easy because no one goes to the special events that the college hosts, and so it’s easy to feel like one of the many who are too busy/lazy to attend things. Oxford is the opposite, with debates at the Oxford Union filling up to beyond capacity and talks with editors of famous journals happening around cozy tables in rooms lined with books, so that whenever and wherever something is happening, it feels as if the event is full-up with interested and eager participants.
Luckily, here in Israel, my mother and my friends are helpful in preventing my easily distracted-by-indoor-activities self, and they alert me when there are interesting things going on. Which is how I found myself attending a poetry reading at Tel Aviv University’s Gilman Building today, at 4pm.
Joy Harjo is an American Indian with a long list of awards and prizes to her name. She has a low voice and true-black hair, the kind of black that you try to squint at in order to see something in, the kind of black that gives no reflection. Her right hand was covered in intricate tattoos. She opened with a prayer in the Muskogee tribe’s language, a prayer that asked Eagle to give her strength, and she played a flute that hooted mesmerizing notes.
Her poems mix spiritual, animal images with modern, everyday language. She herself is clearly a mix of old tradition, true belief, and practicality – for you don’t travel halfway around the world and you don’t tell stories of getting good grades in university without a certain degree of ability to get along in the “real” blandness of everyday life.
She sang and played the saxophone too, and read some bits from her memoir. What I found most moving about her were those poems that she clearly knew by heart, because when she spoke them, they weren’t emerging from her mouth so much as from her gut. Her eyes screwed shut and one hand clawed the air while the other was clenched at her side or at her belly. She felt the words and saw them, and spoke them with clarity and skill. She isn’t a spoken-word poet, but she is a poet with the capacity to speak her words well.