Joy Harjo

When I first learned of Joy Harjo in one of my Native American college classes I immediately became a fan. A particular trait that I admire about her is how she has continually strived to grow personally and artistically throughout her career. She has never become complacent, even after gaining elevated stature within her field and among her peers. She is not afraid to take artistic and professional risks, and she has placed her personal reputation on the sacrificial altar of public opinion repeatedly for causes she believes in. Similarly, as the best poets often do, Harjo opens a vein and bleeds out truth, then guts herself in a ritualistic manner befitting artistic exploration, exposing her innermost emotions to a truth-starved society and the ravenous urges of the often untalented common critic. And during the enlightened disembowelment she courageously spotlights her own fears, fallacies, and sins. Yet, she does it in such a way, with creative imagery and little condemnation, that readers often feel as if they are gently led through each poem.

Harjo’s use of metaphor is often spellbinding in its simplicity, and so in-tune with her Native American roots. For instance, look at the following stanza from He Told Me His Name Was Sitting Bull:

and the grassy plains near anadarko

he spreads out for me

in the brown hills of his eyes

i smile           hiding my teeth

between the branches of oaks

in tahleguah hills


Or the following from Four Horse Song:


the red horse

from the eastern sunrise

cannot see the next day

as he chases his life

across the streets of Gallup

he knows only

his red shameful eyes

in the morning

and it becomes

the same day always


As you can see, Harjo does not always rely on flowery terms; she can easily turn simple prose into a perfect metaphor based on its meaning or connection to the Native American culture. Although, she utilizes catchy phrases as well, such as “guncatcher machine” in place of metal detector in I Am A Dangerous Woman, “buried in an ache” from Anchorage, or “tobacco brown bones” from New Orleans.

I cannot speak for others, but when I peruse the aforementioned poetic fare it always inspires a contented smirk – and I am satisfied.


© JW Thomas


3 thoughts on “Joy Harjo

    • jwtatfbc February 21, 2016 / 5:10 am

      She is one of the top female Native American poets in the country. She also has her own band, and has done activist work to back up her beliefs. And, yes, she is interesting and admirable… like you, but for different reasons. ha ha

      Liked by 1 person

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