By SCOTT MCKIE B.P.
One Feather Staff
Indigenous Nations Poets (In-Na-Po) is set to hold its Inaugural Retreat event next month, and a member of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians will be one of the participating poets. Mary Leauna Christensen is one of 16 poets selected for the event scheduled for Washington, D.C. on April 25-29.
“I was introduced to poetry at a very young age thanks to an elementary school teacher who weaved poetry throughout her curriculum,” said Christensen. “I’ve always picked up crafty or artistic hobbies, but I almost never stick with them long for various reasons. However, poetry is something I’ve always found my way back to, though I didn’t take my writing more seriously until I was an undergraduate student at Western Carolina University (WCU). It was at WCU that I decided, rather last minute, to pick up a creative writing minor in hopes of successfully applying to MFA (master’s of fine arts in creative writing) programs. I’ve now seriously studied poetry at the graduate-level for five years.”
Christensen has a bachelor’s degree in English studies pedagogy from WCU, a master’s degree in creative writing (poetry) from Eastern Washington University, and she is currently in her third year of a Ph.D. program in poetry at the University of Southern Mississippi where she teaches first-year composition and technical writing courses.
“I think poetry just really invites play and exploration. Even if you write more formal poetry like sonnets, sestinas, or villanelles, there are still ways to make the form your own. While I don’t often write formal poetry, I typically play with narrative, white space, and genre. A lot of my recent poetry blends in elements of prose and resides in a kind of liminal space.”
Poetry is very much a part of Christensen who serves as the managing editor of The Swamp Literary Magazine. “Poetry really allows me to explore the liminality I feel as an Indigenous woman and as someone of a mixed heritage – Indigenous, Latinx, and European. I’m early in my learning of the Cherokee language, and I have written poems where Cherokee is present. Poetry, for me, is also the way that I process emotions and trauma. In the last two years, both my grandmother and mother passed unexpectedly. I really don’t know where I’d be right now if I didn’t have poetry as an outlet.”
She is looking forward to experiencing In-Na-Po’s Inaugural Retreat for several reasons including having a chance to share with other Native poets. “I currently live away from an Indigenous community and have not had the opportunity to share a workshop environment with other Native writers. I think participating in workshops and learning from both emerging and established writers will provide knowledge, feedback, and support non-Indigenous writers are unable to give. I believe such a community can only improve my current and future work as the Indigenous experience is unique. As my full-length manuscript focuses on elegy and its hybridity, sharing my work with peoples who have a similar understanding of generational trauma and the processing of it can offer useful and relatable insight.”
Christensen added, “As my part of my PhD studies, I am also specializing in contemporary Indigenous literature and while I haven’t had the opportunity to take an Indigenous Literature course, I do hope to teach courses specifically centered around Indigenous literature, thought, and theory. I think my experience with the In-Na-Po retreat will really be beneficial for me as a writer, student, and as an educator/academic.”
Information from In-Na-Po describes the Retreat experience as follows, “These emerging writers will gather with distinguished Indigenous faculty, In-Na-Po leaders, and U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo in April at the Library of Congress (LOC) for the Retreat. The week’s events will include workshops, craft talks, an introduction to the collections of the LOC and the National Museum of the American Indian, and readings by faculty and fellows. Throughout, the Retreat will embrace Indigenous values and aesthetics, and encourage participants in their use of Indigenous languages. Writers will receive guidance on the practice and business of poetry and will have the opportunity to share finished poems in several venues.”
For more information on Indigenous Nations Poets, visit: https://www.Facebook.com/InNaPoets