Monday, June 24, 2019

Counting to seventy . . .

    I am exited by last week's news that Oklahoma poet-- and member of the Muskogee Nation -- Joy Harjo has been appointed Poet Laureate of the United States.  Harjo came to poetry via music and she sees in poetry a way of making connections and building understanding.  
     Struggling through complexity to understanding is a similarity between poetry and mathematics. Beyond that basic connection, however, Harjo's poetry is not closely linked to mathematics.  EXCEPT:  One of her poems (found online at follows a strict syllable count.  In a birthday tribute to a friend who has turned seventy, Harjo has produced a seventy-line poem in which the syllable counts proceed as 1, 2, 3, 4, . . . , 69, 70. (In the terminology of OULIPO, Harjo has produced a growth-only snowball.)   Here are the opening lines of Harjo's poem:

from Becoming Seventy     by Joy Harjo
                    Knoxville, December 27, 2016, for Marilyn Kallet’s 70th birthday.
                    This poem was constructed to carry any memory you want to hold close.
     when the days
     grew legs of night.  
     Chocolates were offered.
     We ate latkes for hours
     to celebrate light and friends.
     We will keep going despite dark
     or a madman in a white house dream.
     Let’s talk about something else said the dog
     who begs faithfully at the door of goodwill:
     a biscuit will do, a voice of reason, meat sticks — 
     I dreamed all of this I told her, you, me, and Paris — 
     it was impossible to make it through the tragedy
     without poetry. What are we without winds becoming words?
        . . .

Here at you may read the complete poem.  Enjoy -- and think of creating this sort of tribute yourself the next time an important friend has an important birthday!


  1. Counting syllables accurately is HARD:

    When I emailed Joy Harjo to give her a link to my posting, I got this reply:

    Thanks JoAnne,
    When revising for my new book in which the poem will appear, I realized I had 71 stanzas, not 70 as I thought (with commensurate syllables each stanza).
    So, I revised. . . . To see the revision, everyone can read An American Sunrise!!

    1. THANKS, Joy, for your poetry!! It defies mere counting!