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Joy Harjo: Poet

Updated on November 30, 2014

Joy Harjo is a poet . . . of our mixed North American imagination.

I created this page because Joy Harjo has written some wonderful poetry and . . . she's an interesting woman. Joy Harjo is part of the Muscoge/Creek Nation. She is a Native American activist, professor, scriptwriter, published poet, singer, and plays tenor sax.

"My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I've heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it . . . ."

~ Joy Harjo ~

Poem: Eagle Poem

by Joy Harjo

To pray you open your whole self

To sky, to earth, to sun, to moon

To one whole voice that is you

And know there is more

That you can't see, can't hear

Can't know except in moments

Steadly growing, and in languages

That aren't always sound but other

Circles of motion.

Like eagle that Sunday morning

Over Salt River. Circled in blue sky

In wind, swept our hearts clean

With sacred wings.

We see you, see ourselves and know

That we must take the utmost care

And kindness in all things.

Breathe in, knowing we are made of

All this, and breathe, knowing

We are truly blessed because we

Were born, and die soon within a

True circle of motion,

Like eagle rounding out the morning

Inside us.

We pray that it will be done

In beauty.

In beauty.

photo: Arctish / photobucket

Eagle Poem Performed

Bio Bits

Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and an enrolled member of the Muskogee Tribe.

Came to New Mexico to attend the Institute of American Indian Arts and studied painting and theater.

Attended the University of New Mexico where she received her B.A. in 1976, then earned an M.F.A. from the University of Iowa. Also attended a non-degree program in Filmmaking at the Anthropology Film Center.

Began writing poetry when the Indian political climate needed a voice.

In Denver she took up the saxophone to learn how to sing and imagined a band that would combine poetry with a kind of music not yet defined having elements of tribal music, jazz and rock.

Returned to New Mexico . . .

"I begin with the seed of an emotion, a place, and then move from there. I no longer see the poem as an ending point, perhaps more the end of a journey, an often long journey that can begin years earlier, say with the blur of the memory of the sun on someone's cheek, a certain smell, an ache, and will culminate years later in a poem, sifted through a point, a lake in my heart through which language

must come."

~ Joy Harjo ~


Poem: September Moon

Last night she called and told me

about the moon over San Francisco Bay.

Here in Albuquerque it is mirrored

in a cool, dark Sandia sky.

The reflection is within all of us.

Orange, and almost the harvest

moon. Wind and the chill of the colder

months coming on. The children and I

watched it, crossing San Pedro and Central

coming up from the state fair.

Wind blowing my hair was caught

in my face. I was fearful of traffic,

trying to keep my steps and the moon was east,

out of any skin that was covering her. Naked.

Such beauty.


We are alive. The woman of the moon looking

at us, and we looking at her, acknowledging

each other.


Oldest of four children born to Allen and Wynema Foster.

.Mother was of Cherokee and French descent.

Father traced his heritage to the Muscogee Creek tribe.

Parents divorced when Joy was eight.

Great aunt, Lois Harjo Ball, is credited with fostering Joy's interest in her Creek roots.

Creek leader Menawe, one of Harjo's ancestors, led the battle against the US Army's forced relocation of American Indian tribes, which was named the Red Stick War.

Great - great grandparents moved to Oklahoma, then Indian Territory, in the 1830s when the US government forced Creek tribes from their lands we know as Alabama and Georgia.

Poem: Ah, Ah

by Joy Harjo

for Lurline McGregor

Ah, ah cries the crow arching toward the heavy sky over the marina.

Lands on the crown of the palm tree.

Ah, ah slaps the urgent cove of ocean swimming through the slips.

We carry canoes to the edge of the salt.

Ah, ah groans the crew with the weight, the winds cutting skin.

We claim our seats. Pelicans perch in the draft for fish.

Ah, ah beats our lungs and we are racing into the waves.

Though there are worlds below us and above us, we are straight ahead.

Ah, ah tatttoos the engines of your plane against the sky-away from these waters.

Each paddle stroke follows the curve from reach to loss.

Ah, ah calls the sun from a fishing boat with a pale, yellow sail. We fly by

on our return, over the net of eternity thrown out for stars.

Ah, ah scrapes the hull of my soul. Ah, ah.

photo: abaum20 / photobucket

Jobs and Awards

1978-79........taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts as an Instructor

1980-81........taught at Arizona State University as a Lecturer

1983-84........taught at Santa Fe Community College as an Instructor

1983-84........taught at the Institute of American Indian Arts as an Instructor

1985-88........was Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado

1988-90.........was Associate Professor at the University of Arizona

1991-95........was a Full Professor at the University of New Mexico

1995-00........toured with her award winning band, Poetic Justice

1996.............teaching at the University of California at Los Angeles, member of the PEN Advisory Board and PEN New Mexico Advisory Board

2005-08........first Joseph M. Russo Professor of Creative Writing and the first Native American to hold an endowed chair in the U of New Mexico's history

She has received the following grants and awards:

Academy of American Poetry Award at the University of New Mexico

NEA Creative Fellowship 1978

EA summer stipend at the University of Arizona 1978

Arizona Commission on the Arts Creative Writing Fellowship 1989

First place in poetry at the Santa Fe Festival for the Arts 1980

Oklahoma Center for the Book's Arrell Gibson Lifetime Achievement Award.

Before Columbus Foundation American Book Award 1990

Poetry Society of America's William Carlos Williams Award 1991

First CD, Letter from the End of the 20th Century, was honored by First Americans in the Arts for Outstanding Musical Achievement.

The American Indian Film Festival awarded her the Eagle Spirit Achievement Award in 2002.

Released two more CDs of original music and performances including, Winding Through the Milky Way, for which she won a NAMMY for Best Female Artist of the Year.

She recently received a Rasmusson: US Artists Fellowship for 2009.

“Joy Harjo is one of the real poets of our mixed, fermenting, end-of-century North American imagination.”

~ Adrienne Rich ~

Poem: Perhaps the World Ends Here

by Joy Harjo

The world begins at a kitchen table. No matter what, we must eat to live.

The gifts of earth are brought and prepared, set on the table. So it has been since creation, and it will go on.

We chase chickens or dogs away from it. Babies teethe at the corners. They scrape their knees under it.

It is here that children are given instructions on what it means to be human. We make men at it, we make women.

At this table we gossip, recall enemies and the ghosts of lovers.

Our dreams drink coffee with us as they put their arms around our children. They laugh with us at our poor falling-down selves and as we put ourselves back together once again at the table.

This table has been a house in the rain, an umbrella in the sun.

Wars have begun and ended at this table. It is a place to hide in the shadow of terror. A place to celebrate the terrible victory.

We have given birth on this table, and have prepared our parents for burial here.

At this table we sing with joy, with sorrow. We pray of suffering and remorse. We give thanks.

Perhaps the world will end at the kitchen table, while we are laughing and crying, eating of the last sweet bite.

Joy Harjo Performs

Published In . . .

Joy has been published in magazines including:

Massachusetts Review . . . . Ploughshares . . . . Puerto del Sol . . . .Contact II, . . . .The Bloomsbury Review . . . . Journal of Ethnic Studies . . . . American Voice . . . . . Kenyon Review . . . . Sonora Review . . . . Beloit Poetry Review . . . . Greenfield Review . . . . River Styx.

". . . . made me feel quite pried open and shot through with a very immanent sacred power and a sense also of the strength ad endurance of a woman who draws energy and insight and compassion from everything in her background."

~ Marge Piercy ~


Poem: My House in the Red Earth

by Joy Harjo

My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world. I've heard New York, Paris, or Tokyo called the center of the world, but I say it is magnificently humble. You could drive by and miss it. Radio waves can obscure it. Words cannot construct it, for there are some sounds left to sacred wordless form. For instance, that fool crow, picking through trash near the corral, understands the center of the world as greasy strips of fat. Just ask him. He doesn't have to say that the earth has turned scarlet through fierce belief, after centuries of heartbreak and laughter-he perches on the blue bowl of the sky, and laughs.

Harjo Factoids

She has been a member of the:

Native American Public Broadcasting Consortium Board of Directors

The Phoenix Indian Center Board of Directors

Coordinating Council of Literary Magazines Grants Panel

National Endowment for the Arts Policy Panel

New Mexico Arts Commission Advisory Panel

National Third World Writers Association Board of Directors (no longer functioning).

Misc. Bits

Co-edited an anthology of contemporary Native women's writing: Reinventing the Enemy's Language: Native Women's Writing of North America. It was pronounced one of the London Observer's Best Books of 1997.

Wrote the award-winning children's book from Harcourt, The Good Luck Cat.

Contributed poetic prose to photographs by Stephen Strom in Secrets from the Center of the World.

First music CD, Letter from the End of the 20th Century,,released by Silver Wave Records in 1997.

Second CD of original songs, Native Joy for Real.

Performed internationally, from the Arctic Circle in Norway at the Riddu Riddu Festival.

Featured on Bill Moyers, The Power of the Word series.

Narrator for the Turner The Native Americans series.

Narrator for the Emmy award-winning show, Navajo Codetalkers, for National Geographic.

Music video "Eagle Song," nominated for best music video at the American Indian Film Festival 2002.

Performs internationally with the Arrow Dynamics Band.

One-woman show, Wings of Night Sky, Wings of Morning Light premiered at the Wells Fargo Theater in 2009.

Writes a column "Comings and Goings" for her tribal newspaper, the Muscogee Nation News.

Joy Harjo's CD

Native Joy for Real
Native Joy for Real

Internationally known Native American poet and musician Joy Harjo mixes the powerful lyrics of her raw smoky singing topped with jazzy, saucy licks of her alto sax. The result is a distinct native sound blended with jazz, rock, even folk and a touch of hip hop soul for spice. You can sing to it, you can dance to it, cry to it, even laugh a little. (amazon)


Poem: Sunrise - by Joy Harjo

Sunrise, as you enter the houses of everyone here, find us.

We've been crashing for days, or has it been years.

Find us, beneath the shadow of this yearning mountain, crying here.

We have been sick with sour longings, and the jangling of fears.

Our spirits rise up in the dark, because they hear,

Doves in cottonwoods calling forth the sun.

We struggled with a monster and lost.

Our bodies were tossed in the pile of kill. We rotted there.

We were ashamed and we told ourselves for a thousand years,

We didn't deserve anything but this--

And one day, in relentless eternity, our spirits discerned movement of prayers

Carried toward the sun.

And this morning we are able to stand with all the rest

And welcome you here.

We move with the lightness of being, and we will go

Where there's a place for us.

What is your impression of Joy Harjo's poetry?

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    • profile image


      7 years ago

      This Page helped me so much!!!!!!!!!!!!! I have 4 paragraghs to do. Due tomorrow. Thank u sooooooo mucccchhhhhhhh!

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      I am doing a report on creek Indians 1 of the questions was " what is one of the famous members" this Page has given me everything I need, this is awesome thanks!!!!!

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I take great offense that Joy Harjo has taken up the Native American creed and used it to her advantage. She can barely claim Native American blood. She may be a descendant; but for her to claim Cherokee or Creek blood to its full advantage is just wrong.


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