2019 United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo
Photo Credit: Joy Harjo Official Website (Photo by Shawn Miller)
My Poetry Corner April 2020 features the poem “Advice for Countries, Advanced, Developing and Falling: A Call and Response” from the poetry collection An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo, Poet Laureate of the United States. (Note: The following excerpts of poems are all sourced from this collection.)
Born in 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the first of four siblings, Joy Harjo is a poet, musician, playwright, and author of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. Her father was Muscogee (Creek) Nation and her mother of mixed ancestry of Cherokee, French, and Irish. Her mother exposed her to poetry at an early age, but painting was her first love.
My mother was a songwriter and singer, Harjo relates in her poem “Washing My Mother’s Body.” My mother’s gifts were trampled by economic necessity and emotional imprisonment. // My father was a dancer, a rhythm keeper. His ancestors were orators, painters, tribal chiefs, stomp dancers, preachers, and speakers… All his relatively short life he looked for a vision or song to counter the heartache of history. Her father’s drinking and abuse ended their marriage.
At sixteen years of age, Harjo’s abusive and violent stepfather kicked her out of their home. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where she received her high school education at the Institute of American Indian Arts. After graduation, she returned to Oklahoma, gave birth to a son, and returned to New Mexico to pursue a life as an artist. In 1973, as a second-year undergraduate at the University of New Mexico, she discovered poetry. After earning her BA in 1976, she moved to Iowa to obtain an MFA at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
“After all the abuse I had been through, I saw [poetry] as a way to transform what is harsh into something nourishing,” Harjo said, during an interview with Santa Barbara Poet Laureate Laure-Anne Bosselaar in January 2020. “I had found something in poetry not found in painting that was so compelling. I could write about Native women, fighting for our rights in over 500 tribal nations.” Continue reading