Poetry of Joy Harjo

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Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo was appointed Poet Laureate of the USA in 2019, the first native American to hold that position. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, Harjo is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation. She once commented, “I feel strongly that I have a responsibility to all the sources that I am: to all past and future ancestors, to my home country, to all places that I touch down on and that are myself, to all voices, all women, all of my tribe, all people, all earth, and beyond that to all beginnings and endings. In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have voice, because I have to; it is my survival.” 

As a member of an indigenous group, Harjo frequently draws from her native traditions of storytelling, borrowing from indigenous myths and symbols. The landscape of her poetry is one of harmony with nature and transcendence. In her famous poem ‘Remember’ Harjo writes:

“Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.”

Harjo’s body of work includes poems, plays, essays. She is also an accomplished saxophone player and has released seven music CDs. As Poet Laureate she undertook the “Living Nations, Living Words” project to publish a collection of poems by 47 native poets from across the U.S. 

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