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1. Joy Harjo is the poet laureate of the United States from 2019-present, and she will always be the FIRST Indigenous poet laureate of the United States, I think it is important and appropriate to have this poem included in this class since we are interrogating what “American” and “America” mean throughout this course. Please note that Harjo tips her hat at the end of this poem to the great African American poet who won a Pulitzer Prize in 1950 – Gwendolyn Brooks. One of the things that always impressed me about Joy has been the ways that she connects art and ideas from people from all walks of life – she sees intersecting identities, intersecting oppressions, and intersecting empowerments across time and space – and, at least since I have known her, she always has done.
Please read Harjo’s “Eagle Poem” (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/46545/eagle-poem) and note that if you click the audio button, you can hear her reading it.
In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, Harjo and her band, Poetic Justice, put music to her poetry. Here is one of the band’s pieces,” A Postcolonial Tale” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gE4mGc_aUx8).
Here is Harjo’s “An American Sunrise” written out and found on the Poetry Foundation website (https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poetrymagazine/poems/92063/an-american-sunrise).
Here is Harjo reading (singing) “An American Sunrise” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u4FNGrPTPZw).
2. Please read this academic and theoretical essay entitled “Queering America: Joy Harjo’s Vision of Radical Contingency” by Dr. Joan Burbick from Washington State University. (6 Burbick.pdf) And, please answer the following questions:
Given Harjo’s poems, her becoming only the 2nd Poet Laureate honored with a third term, and Burbick’s essay, there is a lot to talk about when considering Joy Harjo and her amazing body of work. To begin with Burbick’s essay, what is her argument about the ways that Harjo’s writing is queer? What does Burbick mean by queer and what are the ways that Harjo does have a queer and radical envisioning of “America” through her poetry? On a literal level, given my lecture, what are the other ways that we can read queerness into Joy Harjo? Do remember that when she was at the March on Washington for LGBT Rights, the term Two Spirit had not been coined yet. As you read Joy’s poems and listened to Joy’s performances of her poetry, what are your thoughts about her writing? What are the ways that she is looking at this space we call “America”? What are some of your favorite parts of her poetry? What would you like to talk about where Joy Harjo’s work is concerned?
3. Please read Dennis E. Staples’s novel, This Town Sleeps and answer to the following questions. This is Staples’s first novel and was a Finalist for the 2021 Lambda Literary Award. (This Town Sleeps by Dennis E. Staples.pdf) This Town Sleeps is by Ojibwe gay author, Dennis E. Staples. It is his first novel. Staples utilizes the fictional genre to fluctuate between a love story (sort of), a deep look at lasting ramifications of colonization and the ways colonization haunts the town of Geshig and haunts the Indigenous people there, Gothic Horror (who does NOT love a ghost dog as a messenger?), and a mystery (sort of).
1) What are the ways that colonial hangover i.e. the insidious and lasting effects that colonization has had and continues to have on the characters in this book?
2) Discuss Staples’s writing style. Can you argue his writing style, itself, is attempting to break western eurocentric white molds of what is ‘acceptable’ and ‘outstanding’ literature? How? (Please think back to Stein and the ways that she queered language – I mean, she came out of a Western tradition but she also stood that tradition on its head). What do you think of his writing style?
3) Discuss the complexities and nuances of the relationship between Marion and Shannon. And discuss the ways that Staples grapples with masculinity and stereotypes about masculinity. “Hey, Lumberjack!” (You will understand this reference after you have read the book)
4) Discuss the ongoing significance of the Revenant (ghost dog) – and while you’re at it, what is the significance of the rusted out merry-go-round?
5) Discuss the relationship between Kayden and Marion.
6) You knew this was going to come – find a passage of the novel and conduct a close reading of it. What do you see there? What is Staples doing? What is he telling us?
7) You probably have much cooler questions and ideas about what you want to address with this book – go for it!
8) What is the significance of the jawbone? And how do you read the scene with Marion’s mother giving the jawbone to Shannon – and then how do you read what Shannon does with the jawbone? What is the significance of Shannon’s act?
9) What is Staples telling us about being in the closet? And what stereotypes is he working with and/or working against?
4.Both of these short documentaries come to us from the country we know today as Canada. However, the Indigenous First Nations People represented in these films are from cultures and communities that lived above the 49th parallel way before “first contact” i.e. the beginning of imperial and colonial takeover.
Please watch this 6 minute short documentary called First Stories – Two Spirited (https://www.nfb.ca/film/first_stories_two_spirited/) from The National Film Board of Canada. As you watch, pay particular attention to Geeyo’s story about the tradition of the Jingle Dance and the artistry that goes into the dance itself as well as the costuming. Also, please note what the grandmother has to say about the far past and the ancestors regarding what, today, we know as Two Spirit identity.
Please also watch this 5 minute short documentary called
Regalia: Pride in Two Spirits featuring Duane’s Stewart’s story and answer to the following questions. (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mfjHgG7IPCI
As you will note by way of these two films, the term Two Spirit is expansive and inclusive. Think about the ways that they approach what it means to be Two Spirit to each of them. Please note the second film is in YouTube – the closed captioning is about 98% correct, so I feel okay having it here.
These two short films focus on a Two Spirit person. How does the term Two Spirit envelope these two people? How do each of them discuss themselves in terms of Two Spirit? Who are their allies in these films? What craft are the two Two Spirit people following – what ancient art forms? If you could ask either one of them a question, what would it be? What are your thoughts about these two films?