On April 12, The Paris Review announced N. Scott Momaday as the recipient of the 2021 Hadada Award, presented each year to a “distinguished member of the writing community who has made a strong and unique contribution to literature.” In the coming weeks, the Daily will publish a series of short essays honoring the multifariousness of Momaday’s achievements. Today, in an excerpt from her forthcoming memoir Poet Warrior, Joy Harjo recalls how Momaday’s poem “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee” inspired her to begin writing poetry.
Though I loved poetry all of my life, it wasn’t until poems like “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee” by N. Scott Momaday that I turned to the making of poetry. Like Momaday, I came to poetry as an artist who painted and drew. And both Momaday and I have a love of those traditional rituals that place the speaker/singer into an intimate relationship with a place on earth, a people. I believe every poem is ritual: there is a naming, a beginning, a knot or question, then possibly revelation, and then closure, which can be opening, setting the reader, speaker, or singer out and back on a journey. I can hear the tribal speaker in his voice, in whatever mode of performance. And when I trust my voice to go where it needs to be, to find home, it returns to where it belongs, back to the source of its longing.
Every poem has ancestors. Kiowa singers and orators can be found staking words to the ground, with poetic lines appearing as prayer flags waving in the winds in Momaday’s poem “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee.” I can also hear the long-legged poetry of Walt Whitman, who is considered one of the original American poetry ancestors. I wonder who influenced Walt Whitman to release poetry from the highly stylized European forms, to make a poetry that flowed like the winds rippling over vast fields of leaves of grass. Read More