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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

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•  Using the Video
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•  Activities
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Activities: Author Activities

Joy Harjo - Teaching Tips

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  • Harjo's poems borrow from the Native American oral tradition and have a sense of rhythm that makes them even more powerful when read aloud. Have students read one of her poems aloud. How does the performance change the way they originally thought about the poem?

  • Harjo is a saxophonist in a jazz band that combines Native American drums and instrumentals with the jazz of the American South, the geographic homelands of the Creek Indians. Though twenty-first-century American youth may associate jazz with "easy listening," it is important to consider jazz's revolutionary influence on literature and aesthetics during the twentieth century. For American writers, jazz referred not only to a musical style, but also to a style of dance, literature, dress, and art. Jazz's rebellion could be felt in the freedom of improvisation, as well as the ability to take old melodies, split them apart, and make them fit a new rhythm and worldview. Harjo borrows from jazz in her poetry both in terms of the syncopated rhythms of her work and in her affinities for improvisation, call and response, and collage. Ask students to explore the importance of jazz for Harjo's verse.

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