100 Thousand Poets for Change at SUNY Adirondack


Posted in 100 Thousand Poets for Change, Peace, Poetry, poetry reading, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Nat Geo and Processes of Poetry, of Peace

I’m linking here to my new blog article on my other site, “The Real McCoy: A Take on Poetry” at https://kathleenmccoy.wordpress.com/2017/08/19/nat-geo-and-processes-of-poetry-of-peace/

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Sacred Sister: The Poetry and Vision of Joy Harjo



Joy Harjo, Photo by Kathleen McCoy


Joy Harjo, Photo by Kathleen McCoy

I held my breath as I read the “Yes” email from Joy Harjo’s agent, Blue Flower Arts. Harjo had agreed to cut short a jazz and blues festival performance to participate as featured poet for our local rendition of 100 Thousand Poets for Change (on Facebook and as “100 Thousand Poets for Change SUNY Adirondack Writers Project”). Last fall I had the privilege of talking with the aptly named Joy Harjo, the Mvskokee/Creek poet who had just won the Wallace Stevens Award and who stands today as one of the pre-eminent voices in contemporary American poetry.

To read Joy Harjo’s poetry, particularly Conflict Resolution, is to feel like we’re in the presence of a vatic voice, a prophet singing with the power of a volcano and the near-hush of a breeze. The seeming simplicity of her style is complicated by the power of tradition and the adaptation of native forms like legends, myths, native songs, blues, jazz. Modulating all these art forms is a powerful voice. When asked how she conceives of the voice in her poetry, Harjo told me, “I feel like the poetry voice is its own voice. It’s the same voice as my saxophone voice. It has its own heft and weight and size and shape and impetus, and it’s more than me. I don’t confuse it with me.”


The surface simplicity of her language belies a complex and multilayered approach to identity, ecology, politics, feminism, and pacifism as much as to the forms of art itself. She creates a fertile space for peace between and among the forms of story, poem, song, dance, and visual art. Her most recent book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, reads like her essential message to the world, quite personal, but always rising to the tribal and above the tribal to the universal and even the cosmic observation, offering a sense of history, interrelatedness, and the deeply human drive to create that transcends genres and even art forms, mingling poems born of meditation with those those that reflect ceremony, song, lament, wisdom, and story. The book incorporates some pieces revised since her How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems, her memoir Crazy Brave, as well as new work.

 Conflict Resolution alternates artfully between short, provocative, lyrical prose and poems, a technique her also used in earlier books like The Woman Who Fell from the Sky and A Map to the Next World. In these books her aim was to create a “sense of oral performance.” She laughed, “I don’t know if anybody got it.” Map ends with the poem “The Beautiful Perfume and Stink of the World,” a piece whose title illustrates the poet’s ability to embrace the ugly with the beautiful, and whose structure continues the conversation between prose and poetry. This embrace of dialectics is an overtly political act in her earlier work. In “It’s Difficult Enough To Be Human,” one of Harjo’s columns for The Muscogee Nation News in June 2007, reprinted in Soul Talk, Song Language: Conversations with Joy Harjo, she writes:

Maybe if we take care of our own story of our people, and make a story of justice, honesty, with a vision of caring for all within the tribe, we might inspire the same in others. If I remember the story correctly, we had no need for jails, for institutions, for military transport jets. We had everything we needed. We took care of each other. (100)

This ethos of compassion that she sees in her unvarnished view of Native cultures becomes a political stance: “Everything is political, whether you choose to see it that way or not. I’ve weathered fierce tribal politics, canoe club politics, music, poetry, and everything has politics . . . . And even that you are saying or doing something makes a stand” (Soul Talk 52). Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings is no less political, beginning with a quote from Phillip Deere which states that “Only the Indian people are the original people of America . . . . Every tribe has a trail of tears. We wonder when it is going to end” (1). Yet the structure, the force field, the life-giving water of Conflict Resolution is invoked in the second half of the volume’s title, which proclaims that we—all human beings—are sacred. We can relearn our interconnectedness to the earth and to each other. The school that teaches this is the school of art—of song, of poetry, of ceremonial dance, of story—and that school was built on Native ground.

As she concluded her memoir Crazy Brave, Harjo chose early between life with a charismatic but alcoholic Native man and poetry. You can guess which won. Conflict Resolution showcases Harjo’s ability to make spiritual connections between her Native culture and what she calls the American “overculture” in a way that John Scarry compares to W.B. Yeats (“Representing Real Worlds: The Evolving Poetry of Joy Harjo” in World Literature Today 66.2, spring 1992). This connection intrigues me deeply, as a writer who has been dabbling in her own Anglo-Irish roots. Harjo assured me that the Irish and the Native share much in common, such as their fondness of poetry, song, the land, politics, alcohol, but also dreams and the spirit, and their historical experience of being shunned, exiled, disenfranchised, discounted.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings proffers its wisdom literature in four parts: “How It Came To Be,” “The Wanderer,” “Visions and Monsters,” and “The World.” The book shows the range of responses a healthy person can have to cultural dysfunction and alienation, from the wry humor in the creation myth “Rabbit Is Up to Tricks” (“Rabbit realized he’d made a clay man with no ears”) to the historical correction in “We Were There When Jazz Was Invented” to ceremonial dance-songs such as “Had-It-Up-To-Here Round Dance” to elegy (“The First Day Without a Mother”) to autobiographical songs like “Indian Night School Blues” to poems that serve as meditations on forgiveness and spiritual reconciliation (“This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” and “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings”).

By the time we get to the final section of the book, we are ready for deep work of reconciliation that Harjo initiates as facilely in poetic prose as in poetry and song. In “You Can Change the Story, My Spirit Said to Me as I Sat Near the Sea,” the speaker recalls “the story of the killing of a walrus who is like a woman,” and feels compelled to “sing the story” because “It is still in my tongue, my body, as if it has lived there all along, though I am in a city with many streams of peoples from far and wide across the earth” (104). The problem is plainly stated at the end: “We make a jumble of stories. We do not dream together” (104). If we would bother to know each other, to share our stories, to listen to the earth and to each other, we could dream together. The common dream is what Adrienne Rich called the dream of a common language. Harjo much admired Rich, who returned the feeling, calling for “a greater conversation, its tones, gestures, riffs and rifts” born of a “stubborn belief in continuity and beauty, in poetry’s incalculable power to help us go on” (Rich, “Defying the Space that Separates Us” in Arts of the Possible).

In “Speaking Tree” Harjo asks bluntly, “What shall I do with all this heartache?” In this poem placed astutely alongside poems of praise and joy, she concludes, “drink deep what is undrinkable.” The collection ends with hard-earned optimism, a dream of “Sunrise” in which “We move with the lightness of being, and we will go / Where there’s a place for us.”

Near the end of our conversation, I asked Harjo about “time-bending,” a gift she has said her seventh-great-grandfather Monahwee had which allowed him to perceive time differently and manipulate it. She responded that time-bending affects poetry because poetry, like song, depends heavily upon “rhythm.” She likens the prose pieces in Conflict Resolution to saxophone “riffs,” short interludes that themselves play a part in the larger rhythmic structure of the book. Rhythm is an element of the cycles of history, the cycles of human emotion, the cycles of earth, the cycles of human relationship—and certainly, the nature of time in poetry and song. Even in free verse, meter measures time. It is the means of breath, and breath is the means of freedom, and freedom is the basis of art.

Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings should be required reading for each presidential candidate this year, as well as for the rest of us who crave air and earth, word and music, story and myth, who mark in time the woes of flesh and the joys of spirit.




Posted in 100 Thousand Poets for Change, book review, nature, Peace, Poetry, poetry reading, Politics, Race, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Women, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

100 Thousand Poets for Change

It’s happening in Africa. It’s happening in England. It’s happening right here.

Around the globe, over 500 live and/or streaming events will happen on Saturday, September 28 in support of peace and sustainability. Tens of thousands of poets, artists, musicians, photographers, and mimes with 100 Thousand Poets for Change, a grassroots movement, will share their artistry with the public. Locally, SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, New York will feature over a dozen artists at 4:00 p.m. in the Visual Arts Gallery of Dearlove Hall.

Affiliated with the Writers Project of SUNY Adirondack, this particular event for 100 Thousand Poets for Change will feature published poets and writers, including professors Nancy White, Lale Davidson, Rob Faivre, and Stuart Bartow, along with community favorites Marilyn McCabe, Carol Graser, and Lee Gooden. (On Facebook, log in and search for “100 Thousand Poets for Change SUNY Adirondack Writers Project.”)

If you’re anywhere near the New York capital region that day, come for the poetry, come for the art (and the refreshments). Come to stand for peace and for sustainable living. Come for the community.

100 Thousand Poets for Change at SUNY Adirondack

100 Thousand Poets for Change at SUNY Adirondack

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment


It’s not the falling flakes that halt me
but the quick gust that kicks them,
not tenacity of brown leaves clinging to the branch
but how the white shawl settles there,

not blackness bleeding on the porous page of the world
but the sponge of light that catches it,
not the hard, slick ground
but its gradual softening

so my every step leaves
an imprint that will only
last so long.Image

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

International Day of Peace and Poetry

International day of peace! Giornata internazi...

International day of peace! Giornata internazionale della pace! (Photo credit: pasma)

Did you read or write a poem to share on September 21st, the International Day of Peace? Share it here if you have permission, or give us the author, title, and book where we can find it.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

New Sites


Peace! (Photo credit: aldrin_muya)

Formerly Poetry for Peace, this site is now dubbed Poetry for Peace and Justice. You might also be interested in the administrator’s poetry blog. Click here for The Real McCoy.


Posted in Peace, Poetry, Politics, Uncategorized, Women, Writers | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Slim Blade

I’ve been writing meditative poetry for years. In these poems I try to convey a sense of spiritual struggle all seekers share. Here’s the most recent product of this quest:

Photo Credit Majeztic Arabians

Along the slim blade that divides
time from timelessness,
a newborn foal rises, cross-
legged, collapses and rises again
to fall again and again until, un-
stopped by fear or thought
of failure, he pulls himself aright
by sheer belief in uprightness:

not transcendence, not some heady
levitation over wracking waters, but
stillness and movement congeal,
transfigured light vibrant as
anchored sprouts of
orange maple leaves.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Poets for Justice

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (M...

Christ with the Chinese - in the public domain, courtesy of Wikipedia

Poetry–like music, like theater, like many arts and community activities–brings people together. And when people get together, as the world screen has displayed prominently in the past year, stuff happens–good stuff. Empowerment. Liberation. Education. Social justice.

Political rallying is not the only kind of populist empowerment. Poets do it too. And the powers-that-be are threatened.

As an adult educator, I warn students that some of the sacred cows of their childhood are about to be put to pasture. Education is subversive. So is the message of Jesus (you know, the Jesus that tossed the money-grubbers out of the temple; that showed up the Romans by feeding the hungry that the powerful would rather conscript or enslave; that said, and showed, that love is a verb.) So poetry, too, is subversive.

Across the world, poets are still being persecuted, as truth-tellers always are. In China, Zhu Yufu has been imprisoned for subversion for responding to the populist movements with a poem that inspired followers to initiate a “Jasmine Revolution.”

Some exciting developments here in the States render clear and apparent the links, the possibilities, between poetry and justice. Split This Rock! in Washington, D.C. is a great example. There, March 22-25, poets will gather for “four days of poetry, community building, and creative transformation.” The lineup there includes such literary luminaries as Alice Walker, Jose Padua, Naomi Shihab Nye, Sonia Sanchez, and others.

Here’s to poetry. To subversion. To justice. To love as a verb. And to those who are willing to risk their freedom for the sake of truth, love, justice–and poetry.

Posted in Faith, Peace, Poetry, poetry reading, Politics, Race, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Women, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Top Ten New Year’s Tips for Poets

English: Mare and foal This fine pair were gra...

Image via Wikipedia

(also known as Tune Up Your Engine and Buckle Your Belt: What Your Auto Mechanic-Turned-Horse Trainer Will Never Tell You)

10.  Maintaining your engine requires no wrench,
no grease, no change of oil,
no gasket, no brake. Even
the muscular mechanic is a a distraction.
9.   Your spark plugs are permanent
and guaranteed to spark
given proper conditions for sparking.
8.   The brakes will never fail
to halt momentum when engaged.
7.    Now, don’t get too excited.
No one ever said it’s easy to run an aging engine.
6.   Really, it’s more like a pregnant mare
than a Grand Prix-winning machine,
so let’s swap metaphors right here.
5.    The poor old girl must be filled daily,
hourly if the trail gets steep.
4.    The whole girl must be rested,
groomed, and even praised,
committed to work and diligent at it.
3.    As caretaker, you must exercise her.
2.    Teach her to canter, turn, and bow.
1.    These acts must not be tricks alone
but performed as arts
so that the mare insists upon them
and will rouse you from sleep if need be
so someone will watch her in her trouble
and her joy, let her stop and catch her breath,
and nudge the nascent hooves from her womb . . . .

Happy New Year!

Peace and poems,
Kathleen McCoy

Posted in Peace, Poetry, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Women, Writing | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

A Simple Path

Mother Teresa of Calcutta (26.8.1919-5.9.1997)...

Mother Teresa of Calcutta--Share Alike 2.0 Image via Wikipedia

Yesterday felt like a “natural high”–just a handful of peacemakers held  vigil together for the International Day of Peace, holding candles and banners, displaying hundreds of colorful Pinwheels for Peace made and decorated with wishes, prayers, and poems for peace by students, and welcomed by Congressman Chris Gibson’s office.

Then, some of the finest poets in the North Country got together with no fanfare and only a few more folks to celebrate peace with poetry.

“Nobody can argue with peace!” someone said to me.

“Oh, you’d be surprised,” I replied.

What may seem to many of us logical, desirable, even the deep  yearning of almost all people is terribly difficult to enact. The pinwheels told the story. Why is there so much hatred? Why is peace so hard to achieve? These were the questions they asked. Let’s make peace, right here, right now, and let it spread around the world. That was the message the youth sent.

That message is going to Washington, D.C. in a box of pinwheels.

As Mother Teresa wrote, it’s “a simple path,” but it takes discipline, perseverance, dedication–love.

The fruit of silence is prayer
The fruit of prayer is faith
The fruit of faith is love
The fruit of love is service
The fruit of service is peace
–Mother Teresa


Posted in Peace, Poetry, Spirituality, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Poets for Peace

In honor of the International Day of Peace, several published poets will read famous and original poetry in Glens Falls, New York tonight. If you have Word, click on the link that follows. If you don’t, then know that some heavyweight poets like Jay Rogoff, Paul Pines, and the 3 Poets of the Adirondacks (Elaine Handley, Marilyn McCabe, and Mary Sanders Shartle) will be reading at Rock Hill Bakehouse at 7 (click here for Google Maps).

Before that, we’ll hold a Candlelight Peace Vigil 6:00-6:30 at the Roundabout in front of Congressman Scott Gibson‘s office. As part of these events, hundreds of local schoolchildren and a few college students from Glens Falls, South Glens Falls, and SUNY Adirondack wrote messages and poems on pinwheels that we will leave for the congressman as a testament and obligation of Americans to pursue the peace that children and sages hold as an ideal and a goal.


Posted in Faith, Peace, peace vigil, Poetry, poetry reading, Politics, Spirituality, Uncategorized, Writers, Writing | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment