20th Annual Literary Festival
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Mace & Crown 21 October, 1997
Panelists Cornelius Eady and Joy Harjo discuss the poetry of fire: The Inner Mounting Flame: Self, Culture and Witness
Staff Writer

Professor Tim Seibles, chairman of the 20th Annual ODU Literary Festival, received a phone call Tuesday morning from someone wanting to know more about the panel discussion, "The Inner Mounting Flame:Self, Culture and Witness."

Seibles explained that it would feature two poets of color. The caller interrupted him and made this comment:

"I hope it's not going to be another 'oh pity me, look how the whites have done me wrong' discussion."

Seibles crafted this raw remark into a question for poets Cornellius Eady and Joy Harjo.

"How do we, or how do you each address the uglier aspects of American history and culture in your work ?"

As an American Indian poet, Joy Harjo says she needs to tell the truth about her people that textbooks and country western movies fail to tell. She has learned to use the English language, which was meant to destroy the American Indians, as a vehicle to tell the truth.

"This country (America) is an adolescent. It lives in the present and has no reality, no depth of soul," said Harjo. "Poetry is a soul train, the language of the soul. Poetry teaches you to tell the truth.

When you are writing the language of the soul, history is part of it."

Seibles also posed a question concerning questions of social sanity. He asked how poetry might serve as an invitation for everyone: blacks, whites or reds to talk about these sorts of issues.

Eady stressed that these issues did not exclusively belong to African American or the Native American.

"One of the big flaws in this fight is the resistance by white writers, the lack of recognition that we are in this together," Eady said. "The silence is worse than the insult. It damages you economically, socially and mentally. "

The audience was given the chance to participate in the panel by writing their questions on index cards. One of these questions ended the discussion on a universal note: how important is the writer to the future of the human race?

The tentacles of such a giant question were simplified by Cornelius Eady's honest reply.

"I cannot imagine a culture without writers," he said. "I shudder to think about it."

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