Secrets from the Center of the World: Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s Lyrical Collaboration with Astronomer and Photographer Stephen Strom

Near Burnham, Bisti Badlands by Stephen StromThese smoky bluffs are old taking a trip buddies, making their way through centuries. If you desire to know about the real meaning of history, ask them. Youll have to provide them something more than one excellent story, and require to understand the patience of stones.

“Place and a mind might interpenetrate till the nature of both is changed,” the trailblazing Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd composed into deep space of self-elected obscurity decades before her work was posthumously uncovered as an unusual masterpiece of landscape poetics irradiated by the human search for meaning. A generation later on, another trailblazing lady of uncommon poetic perceptiveness and intimate relationship to the land echoed the sentiment in her own art, into her native canyons of the American Southwest: “Its real that landscape forms the mind. If I stand here long enough Ill find out how to sing.”

East of Nazlini, increasing toward Fort Defiance Plateau, winter by Stephen StromIn winter season it is much easier to see what my death might appear like, over there, disappearing into the misty, spotted rocks.

Desert Floor near Round Rock, AZ by Stephen StromNear Round Rock is a point of balance in between two red stars. Here you might get in stellar memory, camouflaged as a whirlpool of sand, and find you are pure event blended with water, happening in time and area, as sheep, a few goats, graze, keep watch nearby.

Ignore, evening, Bluff, UT by Stephen StromThis earth has dreamed me to stand on the rise of this highway, to appreciate who she has actually become.

Emerging from the lovely call-and-response in between Stroms photos and Harjos brief lyrical reflection is a subtle meditation on the interpenetration of location and mind, of landscape and the human spirit. Considering the ochre canyons and the golden valleys, the pleated sierras and the rippling mudhills, the frosty branches of the winter trees and the summer-blazed strata of sandstone, she unfolds the origami of deep time into a note some ghost-mother left for her ghost-child long back on the edge of the kitchen table, on the edge of the world, inscribed with the meaning of being human.

Harjo– a member of the Creek Nation– fulfills the cosmological perceptiveness of the pictures with a private cosmogony drawn from that ancient human impulse to locate ourselves in relation to the universe, to make meaning in the sliver of spacetime on which possibility has perched us to live out our lives between the scale of protozoa and the scale of galaxies. She envelops each photograph in a short prose-poem that takes the image as its origin point of contemplation, then radiates centrifugally into a miniature universe of metaphor and meaning-making– the mark of all fantastic poetry.

Deserted hogan south of Bluff, UT by Stephen StromThis land is a poem of ochre and charred sand I could never ever write, unless paper were the sacrament of sky, and ink the broken line of wild horses staggering the horizon several miles away. Even then, does anything written ever matter to the sky, wind, and earth?

Desert flooring near Shiprock, NM by Stephen StromMy cheek is flat against memory described by stone and lichen. The center of the world is within reach. It is as familiar as your name, as strange as beasts in your sleep.

Mudhills near Nazlini by Stephen StromI can hear the sizzle of newborn stars, and know anything of significance, of the strong magic emerging here. I am witness to versatile eternity, the progressing past, and I understand we will live permanently, as dust or breath in the face of stars, in the moving pattern of winds.

Strom– who got his doctoral degree from Harvard, studied the development of star and planetary systems at the National Optical Astronomy Observatory, taught astronomy in Emily Dickinsons home town for a half and a decade, and spent three decades photographing the Southwest– renders Earth otherworldly in his pictures, solitary and extra, edged in by unnoticeable indicated horizons, the way the desert indicates life, the method poetry makes life visible. Exposing the fractal patterning of nature, his subtle geometries of shape and color reach beyond the 3 spatial measurements to intimate the dimension of time.

“Place and a mind might interpenetrate till the nature of both is altered,” the trailblazing Scottish mountaineer and poet Nan Shepherd composed into the space of self-elected obscurity decades before her work was posthumously rediscovered as a rare masterpiece of landscape poetics irradiated by the human search for significance. A generation later, another trailblazing woman of unusual poetic perceptiveness and intimate relationship to the land echoed the sentiment in her own art, into her native canyons of the American Southwest: “Its true that landscape forms the mind. Mudhills, Beautiful Valley by Stephen StromIf all occasions are related, then what story does a volcano erupting in Hawaii, the birth of a ladys 2nd child near Gallup, and this shoulderbone of earth made of a mythic beasts anger construct? Near Burnham, Bisti Badlands by Stephen StromThese smoky bluffs are old taking a trip companions, making their method through centuries. Junction Overlook, Canyon de Chelly by Stephen StromMy house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world.

Harjo looks at the Moon and sees “an ancient mountain lion who moves his bones on a stellar branch,” looks at the branches of the tamaracks and sees crows “leaning over the edge of the world, tasting the wind exploded from a swimming pool of freshly born worlds,” takes a look at the land and sees its elemental poetry, sees how it humbles her own art, her own presence, every human existence and all of our art.

Enhance Secrets from the Center of the World with poet Mark Strands kindred cooperation with painter Wendy Mark around the landscape of the sky, 89 Clouds, then revisit theorist, painter, and poet Etel Adnans Journey to Mount Tamalpais– her sensational landscape-lensed meditation on time, self, impermanence, and transcendence.

Mudhills, Beautiful Valley by Stephen StromIf all occasions relate, then what story does a volcano appearing in Hawaii, the birth of a females second boy near Gallup, and this shoulderbone of earth made of a mythic beasts anger construct? Close by a meteor crashes. Someone develops aerodynamics, makes wings. The answer resembles hurrying wind: basic faith.

Junction Overlook, Canyon de Chelly by Stephen StromMy home is the red earth; it might be the center of the world. Ive heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You might drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words can not construct it, for there are some noises left to spiritual wordless type. That fool crow, picking through garbage near the confine, understands the center of the world as oily strips of fat. Simply ask him. He doesnt need to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter– he sets down on the blue bowl of the sky, and chuckles.

In 1989, long prior to she ended up being Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo entwined visions with the astronomer and photographer Stephen Strom in Secrets from the Center of the World (public library)– a slim, splendid installation in the University of Arizonas wonderful Sun Tracks series, celebrating Native American literary art long previously Native representation increased to the fore of the American mainstream, long prior to the English language awakened to how deeply its etymological reliance on the Earth penetrates words as ordinary as mainstream.