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Students Explore Joy Harjo's Work With Original Essays

Updated: Mar 8, 2021

Inspired by Harjo’s Poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here”

Joy Harjo smiling, 2019

Photo credit Wikimedia Commons

by Melissa Slattery

I have been teaching the Interdisciplinary Studies course The Creative Voice (IDS 210) at Norwalk Community College for about 11 years.

It is a challenging course that requires quite a bit of writing, including a set of essays on creative works from five different disciplines in the Humanities. These essays focus on learning how to recognize and evaluate formal characteristics in each discipline.

We study single artworks from the visual arts, poetry, music, dance and film. After students complete these essays, they begin to work towards the creation of a Final Creative Project that reflects what they have learned about, in their critical thinking pieces on content and form.

As a way of segueing between formal academic writing and the making of a creative work, I ask students to do a number of “journal exercises” in order to stimulate and explore their own creative processes in a more relaxed, divergent thinking-based way, with no right or wrong answers, just considering lots of possible answers to creative “assignments.” Our journal exercises are different from the essays, being less formal, more personal written speculations, musings, and experiments.

This is my favorite part of the course to teach, because I am always surprised and delighted by the personal work that students begin to develop in these exercises.

This semester I received many, many wonderful journal exercises. I have chosen three that I think have the element of delightful personal reality that sometimes students don’t quite recognize as valid creative material they can use in making their own creative work. We are learning this together.

This semester, just after the Nov. 3 election I asked students to re-consider the poem, “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” written by our current United States Poet Laureate, Joy Harjo.

Students had already considered this poem, in an earlier assignment. This exercise was posed to students this way: For this journal exercise please re-read the poem by Joy Harjo, "Perhaps the World Ends Here," and then write a "stream-of-consciousness" page or so, about your own kitchen table. What's going on there, today? Is the world ending today? What IS going on. Reference any part of the poem that you find helpful; a word, a line, an idea, as they apply to your kitchen table today.

Here is a link to Joy Harjo reading “Perhaps the World Ends Here".

What follows are three reflective pieces by Creative Voice students.

Angel Marcial shares with us how his own kitchen table is a focal point for his family during this time of multi-generational distant learning.

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Angel Marcial

“At my kitchen table is a cup of coffee which I make every morning before class, its kind of like a wake me up. At the table there is no space for food until maybe dinnertime. We sit at the table and do homework and talk about upcoming projects for school.

When you live in a house where everyone has school work it can get a little chaotic. The kitchen table becomes a desk area with papers here and notes there, kind of like our own study space. It could be tough when it’s time for a snack to make space, when everywhere you turn there is laptop.

In the poem “Perhaps the World Ends Here” the poet says “It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human” I can truly relate to this part of the poem; it is at the table where I tell my two boys responsibilities comes first, if you put it last you will not have time to enjoy the things you like to do.

The kitchen table was never a big deal for me growing up, we would just grab our food and go to our rooms; no conversations or how was your day. Just take your food and be on your way. In a world that feels like everything is coming to an end, I think it’s more important than ever to be able to sit down with one another and have a meal. Talk about our day and how it made us feel. Give thanks for what we have whether we think it’s a lot or not enough. Put away the phones and the gadgets and learn to talk to one another and share the important stuff.

The poem truly captures what American homes used to be like before the late-night evening jobs became a thing, where dinnertime was a sacred time. I could see families from back then sitting at a kitchen table and talking to one another about how school was or how their day was.

This is my goal to stop working late shift jobs in order to be home with my wife and kids and just converse with one another and enjoy each other’s company.”

Cindy Reyes mentions how her kitchen is shared by two family members in this stream-of-consciousness response to the poem:

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Cindy Reyes

“Today, the kitchen at my house feels really warm and cozy because I cooked chicken soup this morning. The smell of vegetables, rice, and chicken is really pleasant. The windows are a little foggy right now because of the heat from inside and the cold from outside. The kitchen table has a bowl of fresh fruits at the center, the tablecloth is gray with white flowers all over it. Today it feels like one of those days where you just want to eat something warm and drink hot chocolate. I love feeling cozy all over the house especially during the fall and the winter. The stove feels a little hot still from cooking this morning.

The kitchen table at my house is a little small, it’s only for four people but I only live with my dad. This poem makes me feel happy and warm, “ At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers”, I like this line a lot because that’s what we do with my dad after a long day. A lot of people might talk and gossip in the living room but we do it while we eat. Overall I love this poem because nowadays a lot of teenagers don’t have good communication with their parents, the reason behind that could be technology. I’m glad that I have a good relationship with my dad and that we are able to talk about anything at the end of the day.

The world is not ending today in my kitchen because everything seems to be in order. I’ll make dinner later or eat the leftovers of the chicken soup. Then my dad and I will sit, eat our dinner, and talk about how our day went. After that will gossip a little bit about everything, then clean the kitchen once again and wait for a new tomorrow.”

Liv Larson tells us how reading the poem and thinking about her own kitchen table gives her a surprising idea:

Perhaps the World Ends Here by Liv Larson

“My kitchen table is currently dirty. Really, really dirty. Recently, it’s been constantly dirty. It’s just my three younger brothers and I right now.

My parents suddenly and randomly got divorced this summer after thirty five years of marriage. My mom moved away to Canada and my dad went to Miami.

So right now it’s just my brothers and I. Not much goes on at the kitchen table anymore. Just dinners between my brothers. I’m usually too busy to sit down with them.

It wasn’t always this way though. We used to eat as a family every single night. Some people find that surprising but it was always just the norm for me. Growing up I remember having to wait as my dad would force my brother to finish his plate which always ended up taking forever.

We’ve had so many important conversations, so many birthdays, so many fights all at the same kitchen table. Is the world ending today?

I’m tempted to say no but if you ask me that question tomorrow or even an hour from now I can’t guarantee my answer will be the same. Realistically, the world isn’t ending today and I most likely won’t see the day that it does. For now, we just go through the motions. We focus on putting one step in front of the other and making it to the next day.

This poem resonated with me because it made me realize how valuable even a piece of furniture can be. I actually cried while writing this because I realized how many memories are attached to my

specific kitchen table and how many memories my Mom and my Dad probably shared at this kitchen table before my brothers and I even existed.

One day we all have our last meal or our last laugh or cry or whatever it may be at our kitchen table and we have no idea that it’ll be the last. Honestly I almost feel like going down there right now and giving the table a hug.”

Meilissa Slattery is a lecturer-adjunct professor in Humanities, The Creative Voice at NCC.

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Great article and poems!

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