Joy Harjo on Voca, the University of Arizona Poetry Center’s Audiovisual Archive
By University of Arizona Poetry Center Library Specialist Leela Denver & Marketing Specialist Sarah Gzemski
The University of Arizona Poetry Center is a physical library, but we’re also home to an incredible audiovisual archive called Voca. With over 1000 recordings of poets from 1963 to today, the archive is constantly growing as our Reading & Lecture Series grows. Voca also holds the work of 40 National Book Award Winners, 45 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 28 Poets Laureate and 4 Nobel Laureates in Literature.
Today, we want to focus on Joy Harjo, one of the poets whose book you’ll be finding when Tucson Tome Gnome hides their book bundles on April 24. Harjo has read at the Poetry Center four times between 1987 and 2017. In 2019 Harjo was named the first Poet Laureate of the United States of Native American descent, and she is now in her second term.
One of our favorite things about Voca is listening to recordings of poets early on in their career, before their work garnered much national or international recognition. For some poets who have read at the Poetry Center multiple times, like Joy Harjo, we can follow the arc of their career and observe how their work has changed and matured over the years.
Our second favorite thing about Voca is how intimate the readings often are. Harjo’s 1993 reading is particularly special because it is rich with Tucson-specific backstory and a variety of poetic forms. In this reading we are treated to a rendition of “Warrior Road,” a short essay (a rare occurrence since Harjo is best known for her poetry) later published in Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writing of North America (1997). In this story, she describes both her and her daughter’s troubling birth experiences as Indigenous women under the American health care system. Parts of this story take place in Tucson and in it, Harjo shares with us how she named her granddaughter. Sandwiched on either side of “Warrior Road,” Harjo reads two poems: one, a love poem, and one, a song written for her former five-piece band, Poetic Justice. Please enjoy this reading and don’t forget to check out these portraits of a young Joy Harjo taken by the Poetry Center’s first director, Laverne Harrell Clark.