Story and language are living entities. That is why when a language is being lost we refer to it as “dying.” Stories have a way of dying out, also. One of the Western world’s most enduring ways of retelling information was through maps. Maps and their stories have held, and still hold, important information. Mapping and stories are often one and the same in Indigenous cultural knowledge, whether it be song, story or tradition.
516 ARTS has taken this idea of stories and mapping and has built an entire exhibition around the idea of “Counter Mapping.” As they describe on their website, it is “a group exhibition and series of public programs focusing on map-related artworks by 14 local, national and international artists and art collectives. Co-curated by Viola Arduini and Jim Enote (Zuni Pueblo), the exhibition engages with geography, identity, politics and the environment through painting, sculpture, photography, video and installation. ‘Counter mapping’ is a practice of mapping against dominant power structures to reclaim stories and memories of place.”
On Wednesday, Jan. 12, “Mapping Indigenous Poetry: Joy Harjo in Conversation with Layli Long Soldier” at the KiMo Theatre will be a discussion about the poet laureate’s project, “Living Nations, Living Words: A Map of First Peoples Poetry,” which features 47 Native Nations poets through an interactive ArcGIS Story Map. The project is being done in partnership with the Library of Congress.
The Oglala Lakota-born poet Layli Long Soldier will have the pleasure of sitting down with Ms. Harjo. Having grown up in the Four Corners area, she still calls N.M. home. She not only won the 2018 PEN/Jean Stein Book Award but was also short-listed for the National Book Award. Long Soldier’s work itself is a reflection of personal places and stories. Describing her work, Long Soldier says, “There’s a range of subjects that I explore in my work. I’m most known for, WHEREAS, which was my book published in 2017, which addresses the national apology to Native Americans signed by President Obama. So in that regard, it’s considered political work. … It’s my response through a very personal lens, and that is as a Native mother, an artist, an educator, a relative, and all of those experiences that make me who I am.”
Harjo was in town just a few months ago for a UNM function. How fortunate we are in ABQ to have such a large figure in the world of poetry “home” again, welcomed by yet another decorated N.M. daughter of the word, Ms. Long Soldier. Closing out our conversation, Long Soldier said, “It’s an absolute honor to be able to share a conversation with Joy Harjo, who is, who has been, our U.S. poet Laureate for three terms! Which is just an incredible achievement. Yes. You know, especially for our community. So I feel really, really honored to be a part of this discussion about poetry.”
What if you are not a poetry aficionado? The idea of mapping and the 47 Nations Project Harjo has taken on are still fascinating ways of thinking about place, time, story and mapping that will have you thinking all the way home.
Mapping Indigenous Poetry: Joy Harjo in Conversation with Layli Long Soldier
KiMo Theater (423 Central Ave. NW)
Jan. 12, 7:30pm
Tickets: $15 (tickets.holdmyticket.com/tickets/38365)