Harjo, Joy 1951–
Born: May 09, 1951 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, United States
Nationality: American
Occupation: Poet
American Writers, Supplement 12. Ed. Jay Parini. New York, NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003. p215-234.
Copyright: COPYRIGHT 2003 Charles Scribner's Sons, COPYRIGHT 2007 Gale
Full Text: 
Page 215

Joy Harjo 1951–


AGIFTED ARTIST, Joy Harjo has been a painter, dancer, screenwriter, musician, and children’s author, but she is primarily known as a Native American poet. She is not a full-blooded American Indian but a mixture of Creek, Cherokee, French, Irish, and African American ancestry, and she was raised in a city, not on a reservation. However, she strongly identifies with her native heritage and frequently employs themes in her poetry that are common to Native American writers—love of the natural world, the interrelatedness of all life, survival, continuance, the power of memory, and transcendence.

When she writes, Harjo believes that “there is an old Creek within me that often participates.” Although her primary inspiration originates from her Creek roots, she also draws on sacred images and stories from other tribes and cultures, creating through her poetry what Jim Rupert calls “mythic space.” For Harjo, myth is more than legend. It is, as she told Donelle R. Ruwe (1994), “an alive, interactive event that is present in the everyday.” Because Harjo views the world through the lens of myth, her poetry takes on a mystical quality. Borders between the ordinary and extraordinary dissolve, boundaries between past and present blur, and the real and the supernatural coexist on the same plane. In Native American cultures myth is also closely related to visionary experiences and ritual. The visions of sages and shamans who actively seek guidance from the spirit world are given to the people to empower and guide them, ultimately forming the basis for ceremonies. Many of Harjo’s poems reflect the relationship between myth and ritual, including her signature poem, “She Had Some Horses.” In a sense, she is a modern-day sage or prophet who gives her poems as a gift to humanity.

From Harjo’s point of view, myth is closely related to memory, which can either be individual or collective. She told Angels Carabi in The Spiral of Memory: Interviews (1996), “Memory for me becomes a big word; it’s like saying ‘world.’”

Memory is the nucleus of every cell; it’s what runs; it’s the gravity, the gravity of the Earth. In a way, it’s like the stories themselves, the origin of the stories, and the continuance of all the stories. It’s this great pool, this mythic pool of knowledge and history that we live inside.

Memory plays a large role in forming a cohesive ethnic identity, which contributes to keeping a culture alive. The stories handed down through oral tradition have continually reaffirmed the validity of Native American traditions and have served as a unifying factor within the community. Memory can also serve as a crucial factor in the survival of the individual. Harjo constantly draws on personal memories as well as images from modern life to dramatize the contemporary concerns of American Indians. By using poetry to interpret those experiences, Harjo taps the power of memory to heal and transform.

Because of the long history of oral tradition in American Indian culture, native people have a great respect for the power of language. Harjo shares this respect, although she is ambivalent about writing in English because she views it as “the enemy’s language.” During the process of colonization, use of tribal languages was Page 216  |  Top of Articleprohibited in Indian schools, which resulted in the inability of many native people to speak their own language. Yet to be able to speak well is still revered in the Native American culture. Because Harjo does not speak Creek, poetry became for her a “sacred language within the English language.” This sacred language gives Harjo and other Native American writers creative power over the pain and fear caused by the brutality of colonization. By naming their pain, they confront it, and in confronting it, they are freed from its influence over their lives.

Gloria Bird, coeditor with Harjo of Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writing of North America (1997), notes that using the “colonizer’s tongue” to reflect back to the Euro-American culture the horrors of colonization politicizes the language. When Carabi asked about the political aspect of her work, Harjo replied: “I don’t think that a poet can separate herself or himself from the world…. The poet is charged with being the truth teller of the culture, of the times…. Poetry … demands the truth, and you cannot separate the poem from your political reality.” Much of Harjo’s work reflects her interest in social and political concerns, especially women’s issues, although she says she is not actively involved in women’s organizations. In an interview with Laura Coltelli, Harjo denied being a feminist in the same way white middle-class women are feminists because “the word ‘feminism’ doesn’t carry over to the tribal world, but a concept mirroring similar meanings would. Let’s see what would it then be called—empowerment, some kind of empowerment.” Yet many of Harjo’s poems deal with the issues concerning minority women who have been abused and marginalized. “I Am a Dangerous Woman,” the Noni Daylight series, and “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window” are only a few examples of poems that portray the powerless and in doing so empower them.

Myth, memory, history, and language are all related to landscape in Harjo’s work. As a child, she remembers digging in the “dark, rich earth” by her house in Oklahoma. “I would dig piles of earth with a stick, smell it, form it,” she writes in “Biopoetics Sketch for Greenfield Review” (1981–1982). “It had sound. Maybe that’s when I first learned to write poetry.” This experience provided her with a physical connection to both past and present. With the coming of the Europeans, the landscape became scarred by the violent history of colonization and the oppression of native people and other minority cultures. It has been further blighted by urban development, the embodiment of Western “civilization.” However, the land has also been blessed by the spirits of the native people who once inhabited it, their history, and the sacred stories that sprang from their relationship with and respect for the land.

Harjo not only writes about the physical landscape of Oklahoma and the Southwest, she also explores the interior landscape of the mind, heart, and spirit. Many of her poems deal with the effects of pain, fear, and abuse, which native people have suffered as a result of their minority status. By writing about the psychological effects of marginalization, Harjo seeks healing and transformation through the power of words. Harjo’s largely autobiographical work has become a survival technique: “In a strange kind of sense [writing] frees me to believe in myself, to be able to speak, to have a voice. Because it is my survival.”


Throughout Harjo’s childhood and early adulthood, survival was a constant concern. Born Joy Foster in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on May 9, 1951, the daughter of Allen W. Foster, a sheetmetal worker, and Wynema Baker Foster, a waitress, Harjo was the first of four children. Her father was a from a prominent Creek family, and his Page 217  |  Top of Articlegreat-grandfather Monahwee led the Creeks in the Redstick War against Andrew Jackson in the 1800s. Monahwee subsequently died on the Trail of Tears during the tribe’s removal from Alabama to Oklahoma. Monahwee’s daughter Katie married Henry Marsie Harjo, who was a Baptist minister and half African American. When oil was discovered on Marsie Harjo’s land, the family became rich. The two daughters, Naomi, Harjo’s grandmother, and Lois, Harjo’s great-aunt, went to college to study art. Joy Foster identified strongly with the artists on her father’s side of the family. As a child she loved to draw, and in college she studied painting. When she reached the age of nineteen, she enrolled as a full member in the Mvskoke branch of the Creek tribe, taking the surname “Harjo” in honor of her paternal grandmother. “Harjo” or “Hadjo” is a common name among the Creeks and means “courage.”

Harjo’s mother was of mixed Cherokee, Irish, and French descent. Her marriage to Allen Foster deteriorated because of his drinking and his physical and emotional abuse. He frequently became violent when he was drunk, brought home a succession of lovers, and was sometimes jailed because of his brutal behavior. Harjo recalls that she and her siblings would often hide in terror when he came home from work. After Harjo’s parents finally divorced, Harjo’s mother married a man who hated Indians and who also abused the family verbally and emotionally. The cruelty of her stepfather affected Harjo’s life outside the home. “As a child, I had a very difficult time speaking,” Harjo told Bill Moyers. “I remember the teachers at school threatening to write my parents because I was not speaking in class, but I was terrified. Painting was a way for me to do what I felt it was given to me to do.”

Painting was not only a way for Harjo to express herself, it also opened up educational opportunities. After her stepfather threw her out of the house when she was sixteen, Harjo enrolled in the fine arts program at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The education was inferior, and she remembers the teachers humiliated the students. Harjo, like many of her classmates from other tribes, turned to drugs, alcohol, and self-mutilation to express her anger and fear. However, despite its drawbacks, the school did help Harjo stretch herself creatively. Also during this time she married a fellow student, Phil Wilmon, and became pregnant with her first child, a son she named Phil Dayn. She writes about his birth in “Warrior Road,” an essay published in Reinventing the Enemy’s Language. Harjo and Wilmon later divorced.

After she graduated from high school, Harjo enrolled in the University of New Mexico as a premed student and then switched her major to art. She finally became a creative writing major after attending poetry readings by Leslie Marmon Silko, Simon Ortiz, and other Native American writers. She was also influenced by writers from other backgrounds, including Pablo Neruda, June Jordan, William Butler Yeats, Anne Sexton, and Sylvia Plath. Ortiz was not only Harjo’s mentor, he also was the father of her daughter, Rainy Dawn. Ortiz and Harjo separated soon after their child was born.

Harjo did not begin to write poetry until she was twenty-two, which is considered a relatively late start for a poet. As a single mother of two children, a student, and a part-time worker, she was under stress and stood on the edge of an emotional breakdown. Painting had helped Harjo weather the trauma of her early childhood and adolescence; poetry took her one step further, and the woman who was afraid to speak as a child found her voice as a poet.

She graduated in 1976 and was accepted into the M.F.A. creative writing program at the University of Iowa. There she was exposed to James Wright, Meridel Le Sueur, Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, and other poets who influenced her work. After receiving her graduate degree in Page 218  |  Top of Article1978, she attended classes at the Anthropology Film Center in Santa Fe, where she learned the art of filmmaking. She also taught at several schools, including the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe (1978–1979, 1983–1984); Arizona State University in Tempe (1980–1981); the University of Colorado in Boulder (1985–1988); the University of Arizona in Tucson (1988–1990); and the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque (1991–1995). Her publications include two chapbooks, seven poetry collections, an anthology of Native American women writers, and a children’s book. In 1986 she learned to play the saxophone and created her first jazz band, Poetic Justice, with whom she recorded albums of her poetry set to music. She resides in Hawaii and travels with her second band, The Real Revolution.


Harjo published What Moon Drove Me to This? her first full collection of poems, in 1979. Included in this collection are ten poems that first appeared in The Last Song, a chapbook published in 1975. Harjo acknowledges that her early poems “were written during a difficult period in my life. You could see the beginnings of something, but it wasn’t quite cooked.” The short, one-page poems consisting of lyrics based on her personal experience do, indeed, prefigure the images, themes, and subjects of her later work, including the primacy of nature, the encroachment of cities, the blurring of borders between material and spiritual reality, the significance of American Indian myth and culture, her preoccupation with survival, and her interest in feminist concerns and the power of language. Many of the poems lack punctuation and capitalization, which may be due to the influence of poets whose work Harjo was reading at the time, including Ortiz and Barney Bush. Her early style may also be a conscious protest against the grammatical rules of the language of the colonizer.

The “moon” in the title relates to Harjo’s frequent use of this image throughout the collection and is indicative of her growing feminism. As Patricia Clark Smith and Paula Gunn Allen note, the moon is a symbol of “a full, intelligent female person.” However, Harjo also frequently uses it as a symbol of self-destruction. In “Swimming,” for example, the moon “is about to do herself in,” and “dangles” like a sickle above the speaker’s bed. In “Going towards Pojoaque, A December Full Moon / 72,” the unearthly glow of the full moon “was so bright / I could see the bones / in my hands.” The moon can also represent “mythic space” where wholeness and enlightenment are found. Sometimes self-destructive impulses and the search for entrance into mythic space are linked. In “Looking Back” the Chinese court poet Li Po (701–762) embraces the moon and follows it “into the universe of a Chinese river,” just as the speaker pursues the full moon by driving “90 miles an hour / into its yellow shoulder.” The attainment of spiritual enlightenment and meaning far outweighs the risk of physical death.

Self-destruction and the search for meaning also characterize the Noni Daylight series of four persona poems. Juxtaposing images from the natural world and urban life, this series highlights the social and psychological alienation to which native women are often subject. Noni Daylight is a 1970s urban, mixed-blood Native American woman, a single mother, an alcoholic, and a drug abuser. She is constantly on the move, not only traveling between the urban and natural landscapes but also crossing the borders between mythic space and mundane reality and between tribal and nontribal lifestyles in search of herself. In a sense she is Harjo’s alter ego. In an interview with Joseph Bruchac, Harjo said, “In the beginning she became another way for me to speak.” Noni speaks through her actions, communicating her Page 219  |  Top of Articletorment and confusion. In “The First Noni Daylight” Noni lies in a hospital bed after attempting suicide in order to manipulate her lover into remaining with her. In “Origin” and “Evidence” Noni drives away from the city, fleeing from the hopelessness of her life by seeking a spiritual connection to the land of her ancestors. She seems to find it in “Origin”:

Noni heard
that the Hopi say that the Grand Canyon
is the birthplace of their people. But
she thinks most of the world
must have originated
from that point.

In both “Origin” and “Evidence” the key word “edge” is used to show that Noni is poised on the brink between two conflicting cultures, between survival and self-destruction and between material and mythic reality. Edge and cliff imagery are predominant in “Watching Crow, Looking toward the Manzano Mountains,” “Kansas City Coyote,” “Out,” “Red Horse Wind over Albuquerque,” and other poems, suggesting the precarious position Native Americans occupy within the dominant culture.

“Edges” and “sharp ridges” also appear in “I Am a Dangerous Woman,” but the speaker seems more assertive and in control than Noni Daylight. The scene is a modern airport surrounded by the foothills of the Sandia Mountains. The contrast between the natural landscape and the human-constructed airport illustrates the clash between the native and Euro-American cultures. The woman is asked by the security guards to step into their “guncatcher machine,” which is set off by her metal belt. She is conscious of her seductive femininity as she removes her belt “so easy / that it catches the glance / of a man standing nearby.” The refrain “I am a dangerous woman,” repeated three times, once as the title and twice in the poem itself, not only emphasizes her feminine power but also mocks the men and their high-tech machine. The poem ends:

i am a dangerous woman
but the weapon is not visible
security will never find it
they can’t hear the clicking
of the gun
          inside my head

The woman’s anger is more powerful than any weapon. Although she complies with the requests of the airport security guards, her strength of identity—I am a dangerous woman—prevents her from being cowed by male domination or the trappings of white culture.

In contrast to the independence of the narrator of “I Am a Dangerous Woman,” Noni Daylight in “Someone Talking” is still dependent on male attention and love. Sitting on a front porch in Iowa next to one of her lovers, and with the aid of “a little wine,” she remembers another night she spent with a different man in Oklahoma and searches for the words to reconstruct her experience:

       Where is the word for a warm night
       and how it continues to here,
       a thousand miles from that time?
Milky Way.
And there are other words
in other languages. Always
in movement.

Here words express more than thoughts and feelings. They are dynamic, forming a continuum that transcends time and links the past to the present moment. Although words are basic tools of communication, their meanings may be ambiguous so the speaker and the listener perceive differently what is being said, as in the following lines:

Maybe the man of words speaks
like the cricket.
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Noni Daylight
hears him that way.

Thus, language has the power to confuse as well as clarify and to divide as well as to connect people to each other.

Harjo’s frequent merger of images from the natural world and human characters in her poems is another way she connects past and present. Based on Navaho myth, the horses in “Four Horse Songs” are each of a different color—white, red, gray, and yellow—and correspond to the four directions. Although the horse is traditionally a symbol of power and strength, Harjo views the horse as “vulnerable.” The Native American figures represented by the white, red, and gray horses are lost in despair, victims of white culture and alcoholism. Only the yellow horse has hope. As he

gallops home near Tsaile
the sun is low and almost gone
but he has faith
in its returning.

This image of the horse galloping off into the sunset, trusting that the darkness will not always prevail, is a powerful symbol of the belief of Native Americans that their culture will not only survive but someday flourish again. Appearing frequently in the next collection, the horse archetype is developed further and takes on a variety of meanings.


Moving beyond the short haiku-like lyrics of What Moon Drove Me to This? the poems in She Had Some Horses (1983) are longer, and the themes and images are more complex. The book is divided into four sections—“Survivors,” “What I Should Have Said,” “She Had Some Horses,” and “I Give You Back.” “Survivors” includes twenty-five poems, while the number of poems in the other sections decrease, with the final section containing only one work. Beginning and ending with poems about fear, the cyclical arrangement of the works represents a journey toward wholeness and healing. On a more universal scale, the poems reflect Harjo’s growing poetic sophistication in expressing her thoughts on Native American and feminist issues.

An ardent admirer of the black poet and social activist Audre Lorde, Harjo begins her collection with two poems that allude to Lorde’s “A Litany for Survival.” Lorde’s poem explores the effect fear and oppression have had on minority women and calls on them to speak out against their subjugation by white patriarchal culture. Continuing the “edge” imagery of What Moon Drove Me to This? and echoing the phrase “constant edges” in Lorde’s poem, Harjo uses “edge” five times in the first poem, “Call It Fear.” The repetition of “edge” coupled with the recurrence of “backwards” conveys an urgent sense of psychological crisis and confusion. Controlling the speaker completely, fear manifests itself physically in the heart that beats against the ribs like “horses in their galloping flight,” through the perceptions where language becomes unintelligible (“talking backwards”), and in the internal landscape of the speaker (“there is this edge within me”). Yet as the speaker struggles with her fear, her perception begins to change, and the “edge” becomes “a string of shadow horses kicking / and pulling me out of my belly.” This powerful image of spiritual rebirth emerging from psychic death foreshadows the evolution from fear to freedom that shapes the book as a whole.

“Anchorage,” the second poem in the collection, also reflects the influence of “A Litany for Survival.” Dedicated to Lorde, the poem presents a distinctly Native American, multilayered view of the world. The poem was inspired by Harjo’s visit in the early 1980s to Anchorage, Alaska, where she conducted writing workshops Page 221  |  Top of Articlefor prison inmates, most of whom were Native Americans and African Americans. Past and present coexist in the city that was carved by the ice of glaciers then nearly destroyed when “a storm of boiling earth cracked open / the streets” during the devastating earthquake on Good Friday, March 27, 1964. The mythic realm interacts with the natural world as spirits of ancestors cavort above Anchorage in an “air / which is another ocean.” The deleterious effects of colonization are still at work, embodied in an “Athabascan / grandmother, folded up, smelling like 200 years / of blood and piss,” and in Henry, a prison inmate, who was shot at eight times outside a liquor store but miraculously was unharmed. Both Native Americans and African Americans have been victims of urban violence and racism. By telling Henry’s story and dedicating the poem to Lorde, Harjo crosses ethnic boundaries to connect the histories of Native Americans and African Americans by stressing the injustices both groups have suffered as a result of white colonization. The concluding lines of “Anchorage” echo the last lines of Lorde’s poem, “So it is better to speak remembering we were never meant to survive.” Harjo’s poem ends:

Everyone laughed at the impossibility of it,
but also the truth. Because who would believe
the fantastic and terrible story of all of our
those who were never meant
                          to survive?

For Native Americans, survival is linked to a strong community where the individual is valued and respected. However, the marginalized status of urban Native Americans often isolates them from themselves and their culture, putting their survival in jeopardy. Henry and the Athabascan grandmother are examples of Native Americans who have survived but who nonetheless remain trapped by poverty, alcoholism, crime, and urban violence. Sometimes suicide seems like the only way out. “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window” on the east side of Chicago tells the story of a woman who “thinks she will be set free” of her hopeless situation by taking her own life. Although she is “not alone” and has three children, her life is fractured in “several pieces because of the two husbands / she has had.” That she is hanging from the thirteenth floor is significant. Many buildings do not have a thirteenth floor because of the superstition associated with the number thirteen. Hanging between life and death, good and bad luck, she is a liminal figure who is separated from her children, her neighbors, and the Native American community where she was raised. No longer nurtured by her own people, she

is the woman hanging from the 13th floor
and she knows she is hanging by her own fingers,
own skin, her own thread of indecision.

Lamenting “the lost beauty” of her life, she desires to speak, but her “teeth break off at the edges” and she cannot articulate her despair. Her attempted suicide speaks for her. The climax of the drama never achieves a resolution. Instead:

She thinks she remembers listening to her own
break loose, as she falls from the 13th floor
window on the east side of Chicago, or as she
climbs back up to claim herself again.

The ambiguous ending offers hope that, in the in-between state of indecision, the woman made a conscious choice to survive and assert her selfhood. However, the possibility also remains that she let go, leaving the reader to wonder whether the woman chose survival or whether she followed through on her initial self-destructive impulses.

In a second series of persona poems, Noni Daylight continues to struggle with her own self-destructive feelings. In “Heartbeat” she cuts Page 222  |  Top of Article“acid into tiny squares” because she “wants out” of her desperate existence. However, in “Kansas City” she seems to find some sort of peace. Although she is older and nearly spent, “a dishrag wrung out over bones,” she has chosen to stay in Kansas City to “raise the children she had by different men, all colors.” She has no regrets, and if she could live her life over again, she would still choose to have liaisons with the men who fathered her children because each taught her something about herself. Her traveling days seem to be over as she stands

  ... near the tracks
at the last train to leave
Kansas City.

In “She Remembers the Future” Noni speaks to her “otherself” about her self-destructive tendencies and chooses survival:

She asks,
“Should I dream you afraid
so that you are forced to save

Or should you ride colored horses
into the cutting edge of the sky
to know

that we’re alive
we are alive.”

Noni may be a survivor, but she does not appear in Harjo’s work again. Instead, she moves off the pages of Harjo’s books into the poetry of another Native American writer, Barney Bush. Harjo laughingly told Coltelli, “I never saw her again. She never came back!”

The theme of survival is again presented in the title poem of the collection. The speaker of the poem is searching for a way to reconcile conflicting areas of her personality in order to shape her identity as a modern Native American woman. The poem is written in the form of an American Indian chant. “She had some horses” and “she had horses” are repeated throughout the poem, giving the piece a rhythmic, songlike quality. This repetition not only reinforces the speaker’s Native American identity in the face of living in an alien Euro-American culture but also evokes the healing power of ritual. The purpose of ceremonial repetition is, as Paula Gunn Allen points out, “to integrate: to fuse the individual with his or her fellows, the community of people with that of the other kingdoms, and this larger communal group with the worlds beyond this one.”

The speaker’s psychic landscape has been deeply fragmented by fear and anger and is exacerbated by her marginal status as a mixed-blood American Indian. The spiritual, psychological, and cultural conflicts at war in the speaker’s subconscious mind are expressed in a series of images personified by the horse. In the first stanza, the woman acknowledges that her life is connected to the earth (“She had horses who were skins of ocean water. / … / She had horses who were splintered red cliff”). In the second stanza, the sensuality of images like “She had horses with full, brown thighs” clash with violent descriptions like “She had horses who licked razor blades.” The speaker’s fear is apparent in the third stanza, when she acknowledges that “She had horses who were much too shy, and kept quiet / in stalls of their own making.” The speaker is engaged in a naming ritual that, by the end of the poem, gives her power over her spiritual, cultural, and physical life. Her attainment of healing and wholeness brought about by the ceremonial naming leads the speaker to the realization that

She had some horses she loved.
She had some horses she hated.

These were the same horses.

This fusion of opposites leads the poet to the final ceremony of letting go in the last poem of the collection.

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The speaker in “I Give You Back” uses apostrophe and chant in a ceremony to cast off the “beautiful, terrible fear” that controls her. In addressing fear, the repetition of “I release you” and “I am not afraid to” allow the speaker to formally confront fear and repudiate it:

I take myself back, fear.
You are not my shadow any longer.
I won’t hold you in my hands.
You can’t live in my eyes, my ears, my voice
my belly, or in my heart my heart
my heart my heart

This ritualistic exorcism liberates her, and by overcoming fear, the speaker is reborn and transformed into a new person. In Harjo’s subsequent work, the theme of transformation becomes more prominent.

“She Had Some Horses” and “I Give You Back” are two of ten tracks included on Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century, a compact disc released by Harjo and her band Poetic Justice in 1997. Harjo’s rhythmic verbal chant in both pieces is enhanced by a synthesis of Native American and jazz background music. For example, the phrase “my heart my heart / my heart my heart” is set to the beat of a Native American powwow drum, mimicking the beating of a human heart. The fusion of music and poetry is natural given that song was an important component of the oral tradition. In her next publication, Harjo again crosses artistic boundaries by blending the visual with the poetic.


The Southwest landscape is a major presence in Harjo’s poetry, providing her with a wealth of images and poetic insight. In Secrets from the Center of the World (1989), the desert landscape photographs of the astronomer Stephen Strom complement Harjo’s visionary verse in what is for her a first-time collaboration. Strom, an amateur photographer, began to take pictures of Navajo country when he was a professor at Navaho Community College in Tsaile, Arizona. Instead of trying to capture the vastness of the western landscape in one photograph, Strom concentrates on smaller sections of land, which brings out remarkable depth and detail. Harjo’s prose poem coupled with Strom’s thirty color photographs offer a unique perspective on the relationship among the land and the creatures that have occupied it in the past and those who inhabit it now. Harjo notes in her introduction that “the photographs are not separate from the land, or larger than it. Rather they gracefully and respectfully exist inside it. Breathe with it. The world is not static but inside a field that vibrates. The whole earth vibrates.”

Harjo responds to the physical details of the landscape in the pictures and interprets them poetically and mythically, often moving beyond the borders of the photographs to present a cosmic vision. The land does indeed speak to Harjo of creation, evolution, memory, and continuance. For the golden, sand-swept area known as Moencopi Rise, she writes:

Moencopi Rise stuns me into perfect relationship, as I feed a skinny black dog the rest of my crackers, drink coffee, contemplate the frozen memory of stones. Nearby are the footprints of dinosaurs, climbing toward the next century.

Strom’s photographs, though taken of particular landscapes, cause Harjo to reflect on the larger creation. The mud hills near Nazlini prompt her, figuratively speaking, to see eternity in a grain of sand:

I can hear the sizzle of newborn stars, and know anything of meaning, of the fierce magic emerging here. I am witness to flexible eternity, the evolving past, and I know we will live forever, as dust or breath in the face of stars, in the shifting pattern of winds.

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It is not surprising that Harjo alludes to cosmology given the fact that her collaborator is an astronomer. Her poetic vision often penetrates the shell of material reality to expose transcendence just as the telescope of an astronomer reveals the mysteries of the universe. However, she realizes that her visionary language can never adequately express the magnificence of nature:

This land is a poem of ochre and burnt sand I could never write, unless paper were the sacrament of sky, and ink the broken line of wild horses staggering the horizon several miles away. Even then, does anything written ever matter to the earth, wind, and sky?

Compared to the poet’s words, the elements of nature are eternal. Yet regardless of the limitations of language, the poet still strives to uncover the many dimensions or “secrets” of life.

Where is the center of the world? Harjo seems to be saying that the center is a mystical and psychic construct originating within the individual as he or she interacts with the environment. At the beginning of the collection, she writes, “My house is the red earth; it could be the center of the world.” The center can also be elusive, hidden by the “radio waves” of daily life. For Harjo, like many mystics, it is necessary to retreat from the world for a while in order to see clearly and truly.


Returning from her desert pilgrimage in Secrets from the Center of the World, Harjo reenters the urban landscape with fresh vision in her fourth collection,In Mad Love and War (1990), which won the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America and the Delmore Schwartz Award Memorial Prize from New York University. Myth, autobiography, political and social witness, music, and spirituality appear once again in her work but are used more expansively as she broadens her scope to address not only the plight of Native Americans but the dispossession of African Americans and Central Americans by Euro-American culture. Her multicultural concerns, touched upon in She Had Some Horses, are explored more in-depth in poems that include “Strange Fruit,” “Resurrection,” and “The Real Revolution Is Love.”

The collection opens with a single poem, “Grace,” and closes with a prayer, “Eagle Poem.” The free verse and prose poems of the two main sections, “The Wars” and “Mad Love,” return to the quest for wholeness that was presented in She Had Some Horses but with a difference. Where the central word in the first two collections was “edge,” the key word—and theme—in In Mad Love and War is “transformation.” The conflicts in the first section, whether they be personal, cultural, societal, or international, are transformed by “the epic search for grace,” leading toward a more complete vision of healing and regeneration.

While the horse appears as the central archetypal image in What Moon Drove Me to This? and She Had Some Horses, the deer inspires three poems in In Mad Love and War. “Deer Dancer,” the second poem in “The Wars,” tells the story of a young woman who dances naked in a “bar of broken survivors.” The patrons project their longing for their lost tribal heritage onto the woman, who becomes for them “the end of beauty.” When the woman begins to dance on a tabletop, sensuality merges with myth, and the woman is transformed into Deer Woman:

She was the myth slipped down through dream-time. The promise of feast we all knew was coming. The deer who crossed through knots of a curse to find us. She was no slouch, and neither were we, watching.

The music ended. And so does the story. I wasn’t there. But I imagined her like this, not a stained Page 225  |  Top of Articlered dress with tape on her heels but the deer who entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left.

The dancer offers hope to the onlookers that their lives also may be transformed through her “deer magic,” saving them from alcoholism and “poison by culture.” Through her, they suddenly are aware of the possibility that there is “something larger than the memory of a dispossessed people,” as Harjo says in “Grace,” freeing them to see beyond their broken lives.

“Deer Ghost” and “Song for Myself and the Deer to Return On” begin the “Mad Love” section. As in “Deer Dancer,” the speakers in both poems are trying to return “home” to the mythic space of their ancestors in order to find healing in “something larger” than themselves. The reality of the spirit world connects the narrators with their heritage, providing a way “to get us all back” to traditional native values before the culture becomes swallowed up by Euro-American society.

The cultural impact of racism is explored in “For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Whose Spirit Is Present Here and in the Dappled Stars (for we remember the story and must tell it again so we may all live)” and “Strange Fruit,” poems of witness that deal with the murders of two women, one Native American and one African American. The first tells the story of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, a Micmac Indian and a member of the radical American Indian Movement who was found killed on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota in 1976. Initially it was assumed that she died of exposure, but later it was discovered that she had died of a bullet fired in the back of her head at close range. Harjo memorializes her as

the shimmering young woman
                          who found her
when you were warned to be silent, or have your
  body cut away
from you like an elegant weed.

The second poem, “Strange Fruit,” recounts the story of Jacqueline Peters, a black activist who was hanged in California by the Ku Klux Klan in 1986 after attempting to organize a local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) in response to the lynching of a young black man. The title is taken from a song by Billie Holiday, and the poem is an eerie dramatic monologue spoken by Peters during the last few moments of her life as “her feet dance away from this killing tree.” Both of these poems illustrate the power of storytelling to keep memory alive. In recounting the martyrdoms of Anna Mae Pictou Aquash and Jacqueline Peters, Harjo honors them as warriors, exposes the evil that caused their deaths, and empowers others in the fight against injustice so the horrors of oppression are not repeated.

Closing “The Wars” section, “The Real Revolution Is Love” also deals with oppression and survival, this time in Nicaragua. Invited to participate in the 1986 International Poetry Festival in Managua hosted by the liberationist theologian and poet Ernesto Cardinale, Harjo and a small group of poets gather for an early morning party on the patio of the hotel. The people are all from indigenous backgrounds, including American Indian, Puerto Rican, and Central American. As Harjo observes their erotic interactions, she also alludes to their shared experience as victims of colonization:

I argue with Roberto, and laugh across the continent to Diane, who is on the other side of the flat, round table whose surface ships would fall off if they sailed to the other side.We are Anishnabe and Creek. We have wars of our own. Knowing this we laugh and laugh, until she disappears into the poinsettia forest with Pedro, who is still arriving from Puerto Rico.

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The erotic love of the partygoers and the “furious love” of the speaker in the face of ongoing political oppression point to the transcendent love that can resolve hatreds and that links the poems in the next section, “Mad Love.” “Transformations” is the most powerful example of this transcendence. The prose poem begins, “This is a letter to you,” an allusion to Emily Dickinson’s poem #441, which begins “This is my letter to the World.” Writing in a stream of consciousness style, the speaker begins by talking about hatred and cautioning the reader about its dangerous effects:

This poem is a letter to tell you that I have smelled the hatred you have tried to find me with; you would like to destroy me. Bone splintered in the eye of one you choose to name your enemy won’t make it better for you to see.

The limitations of language come into play as she searches for the words to communicate her message. “I don’t know what that has to do with what I am trying to tell you,” “What I mean is,” and “That’s what I mean to tell you” indicate a process by which the speaker seeks to transform her thoughts and feelings into a meaningful message. “You can turn a poem into something else” and “hatred can be turned into something else, if you have the right words” imply a ritualistic incantation that has the power to transform a negative into a positive. The last line of the poem, however, ends in a paradox, “This is your hatred back. She loves you,” implying that language, whether written or spoken, can go only so far in helping to bring about the love and grace that will eventually result in resolution to conflict.

Yet if we learn how to interpret the languages of the natural and spiritual worlds, we may be able to gain access to a power that is not limited by verbal constructs. In “Eagle Poem” the speaker suggests that to pray you must

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
Steadily growing …

The journey toward transformation begins with the understanding of the spoken and written word. But to continue the process, one must accept that “there is more / That you can’t see, can’t hear” and take the next step by bringing one’s total awareness into mystical communication with the sacred that sustains and permeates the physical world.


Transformation as articulated through Native American creation myths continues to be a central theme in The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994). The title of the collection is taken from an Iroquois story in which a beautiful young woman becomes the bride of the sun. When he discovers that she is pregnant, he accuses her of adultery, angrily rips the tree of life out of the ground, and hurls his wife down the opening. As she falls from the sky, a flock of ducks gently supports her and delivers her safely to the earth.

Two sections of Harjo’s book, “Tribal Memory” and “The World Ends Here,” parallel this myth. The first represents the Native American descent into destruction as a result of colonization. The second, in spite of its rather gloomy title, offers the hope of healing and regeneration. Throughout the book, Harjo continues to address issues such as the limitations of language, the destruction of native culture and its survival, the importance of storytelling and myth, and the pernicious effects of urban life on the lives of native people. Most of the pieces are prose poems, reflecting Harjo’s calling as a storyteller as well as a poet. Each poem is accompanied by an italicized com Page 227  |  Top of Articlementary that provides background information on the piece. Readers new to Harjo’s poetry no doubt will find these notes helpful in understanding her work.

The title poem is a long prose poem modeled on the Iroquois myth. It tells the story of two Native Americans who undergo transformation through love: Johnny, a homeless, alcoholic Vietnam War veteran who renames himself “Saint Coincidence” after getting lucky at pitching pennies, and Lila, a girl he meets while attending Indian boarding school. After graduation, Johnny enters the army. Lila marries, works at a Dairy Queen, and after giving birth to three children, enters “a place her husband had warned her was too sacred for women.” Paralleling the Iroquois creation myth, Lila “looked into the forbidden place and leaped,” implying that she engaged in an adulterous relationship. Her fall from grace leads to love and renewal as she and Johnny meet again in front of a convenience store, where he is begging for change. In the commentary that follows the poem, Harjo tells about one of her mystical visions in which she traveled far above the earth and then looked down to see the earth covered with “an elastic web of light.” She credits her vision with giving her a “different perspective” on the power of love to transform: “I understood love to be the very gravity holding each leaf, each cell, this earthly star together.”

“A Postcolonial Tale” also juxtaposes images from Native American creation myth and those from contemporary life but is more of a commentary than a story. The first line—“Every day is a reenactment of the creation story”—is filled with promise, but as the poem progresses, the promise is derailed by the imposition of Western culture onto the native population by the mass media.

Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming. It was as if we were stolen, put into a bag and carried on the back of a whiteman who pretends to own the earth and sky.

This falling away from a traditional way of life brings native culture to “somewhere near the diminishing point of civilization, not far from the trickster’s bag of tricks.” A creative as well as a destructive force in Native American cosmology, the trickster often rescues native populations from the brink of destruction. In contrast to the white man’s bag that cuts off Indian people from their traditions and traps them through assimilation, the trickster’s bag contains “the tools” to free them to survive and re-create themselves through collective imagination and storytelling.

As in her other collections, storytelling provides a constructive way for Harjo to address and deal with the harsh realities of modern urban life. In “Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century” she tells about a conversation with a Chicago taxicab driver from Nigeria named Rammi. They discuss the senseless murder of one of Rammi’s Nigerian friends, who was shot in the back of the head as he filled his gas tank. Harjo imagines the dead man’s spirit wandering the streets of Chicago, looking for his killer in order to “settle the story of his murder before joining his ancestors or he will come back a ghost.” When the spirit finally finds the man in a jail cell, he realizes that, if he killed the man, the police would assume it was suicide. Instead he chooses to forgive him. His redemptive action transforms his murderer from a disgraced youth into a repentant young man who “learns to love himself as he never could, because his enemy, who has every reason to destroy him, loves him.”

In spite of the apocalyptic overtones reflected in the title “The World Ends Here,” the poems in the second section offer the possibility of healing and renewal even in the face of personal, urban, and cultural violence. Death and loss in pieces like “Witness” and “Fishing” are bal Page 228  |  Top of Articleanced by hope and affirmation in “The Promise of Blue Horses” and “Sonata for the Invisible.” The title of the final poem, “Perhaps the World Ends Here,” suggests the possibility that the ominous prophecy reflected in the section title could be avoided. However, the future of the world may not be decided in seats of governmental power but rather around the perimeter of a common piece of household furniture, the kitchen table. Harjo writes:

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

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.

The center of the home becomes the center of the world, taking on cosmic significance as birth meets death, joy meets sorrow, and war meets peace. The kitchen table also symbolizes continuance and blessing in spite of life’s sufferings and acts as a unifying force, linking together all members of the human family.


Seeking new direction as she stands at the brink of the twenty-first century, Harjo surveys the totality of her experience thus far in A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales (2000). Although personal in tone and subject, this collection continues to address larger issues, such as the power of love, the brutal aftereffects of colonization on indigenous people, the importance of keeping native traditions and values alive, the central role family history plays in the life of the individual, and the power of memory to shape one’s experiences into a meaningful whole. Now living in Hawaii, Harjo weaves both American Indian and Hawaiian myths, particularly creation myths, with personal experience to “map” the individual’s journey from fragmentation to wholeness. The use of the myths of the two indigenous cultures also connects the history of the tribes of the Sandwich Islands to that of their North American brothers and sisters.

The book is divided into four parts: “Song-line of Dawn,” “Returning from the Enemy,” “This Is My Heart; It Is a Good Heart,” and “In the Beautiful Perfume and Stink of the World.” The title poem of the collection appears in the first section and is dedicated to one of Harjo’s granddaughters, Desiray Kierra Chee. It is based on a Navaho emergence myth that tells about the first people who emerged from the fourth world, where all was barren, into the fifth, a new place of promise and possibilities. In an initiation ceremony of sorts, Harjo takes her granddaughter on a journey through the “fourth world” of the late twentieth century. It is a place where “supermarkets and malls, the altars of money … best describe the detour from grace,” where “monsters are born of nuclear anger” and where pollution leaves “a trail of paper, diapers, needles and wasted blood.” Moving through mythic time, Harjo recalls the period before the white man came, when Indians once “knew everything in this lush promise,” and grieves for the lost culture that taught native people how to speak to birds “by their personal names.” She acknowledges that Native Americans “were never perfect” and have fallen from grace partly because they embraced Western culture and abandoned their ancestors “for science.” Her life as a mixed-blood Indian has affected her own vision, and she claims that she can draw only “an imperfect map,” which will guide her granddaughter no farther than the border of the fourth world. As the child matures into a woman, she will step into the “fifth world” of adulthood, where she must draw her own map Page 229  |  Top of Articleto help her find her way as a native person living in an alien society in the twenty-first century.

Harjo explores more deeply the wounds inflicted upon her family by that alien society in three works that deal with her troubled relationship with her father. “Twins meet up with monsters in the glittering city,” a prose piece closing the “Songline of Dawn” section, recounts a conversation Harjo had with her fellow writer Greg Sarris before they were mugged on a Hollywood, California, street. Harjo introduces the reader to her father, “a Mvskoke Creek … a mechanic whose sensual charisma made him attractive to danger.” She attributes his “unpredictable, rough” nature to the loss of his mother when he was a baby, the violence of his father, and “the confusion of being Indian in a society in which his existence was shameful.” His cultural alienation often resulted in outrageous behavior. In “ceremony” she recalls that, when she was a child and sick with pneumonia, her father stole into the room where she and her brothers and sister slept and occupied a cot with one of his girlfriends. In spite of the fact that her father abandoned the family when Harjo was eight, she remembers the times when he was able to express his love, even though it was “flawed.” Both “twins meet up with monsters in the glittering city” and “ceremony” are precursors to the title poem of the second section and prepare Harjo to confront and work out the relationship between her and her father.

Twenty-eight pages long, “Returning from the Enemy” is the centerpiece of the book. Although her earlier work dealt with alcoholism, domestic violence, and broken families, Harjo writes for the first time specifically about the effects colonization had on her father and her relationship with him. Given that this collection represents an evaluation of her life at its midpoint, it is necessary for Harjo finally to face a deeply painful relationship that has been the root of her fear and self-hatred so she can move on. When questioned by Janice Gould about the reasons for the poem’s length and prominence in the collection, Harjo remarked:

In some ways I had to come up against the father paradigm, the male paradigm, see it in myself, become it, allow myself to be controlled by it, nearly destroyed by it over and over again in relationships until I was able to walk through it, until it had no hold on me anymore.

In writing the poem, Harjo was influenced by the poetry of Adrienne Rich and Sharon Olds as well as Hawaiian chants and Creek stomp dance songs.

Harjo begins her purification ritual with resolution and determination: “It’s time to begin. I know it and have dreaded the knot of memory as it unwinds in my gut.” Autobiographical narrative on the left-hand page alternates with poetic interpretation on the facing page. The narrative chronicles the events that affected the love-hate relationship Harjo had with her father during her difficult childhood and adolescence, while the poetry is a commentary on the destructive effects colonization had on Indian culture. The painful realization that “you can’t change history” is played out through the generations as fear, anger, and despair is passed down from parent to child, resulting in an unbroken chain of dysfunctional families and personal relationships. In one of the narratives, she comments:

In mythic stories a child can be born of a liaison between the sun and a woman. And then the child is born and the next day the child is no longer a child but a full-grown human. It all happens that fast. And you think you won’t repeat anything you judged them for, but there you are picking your own children up from the babysitter after the bars are closed, the same leather jacket as your father, your own perfume instead of your mother’s and you stumble a little as you carry them out to the truck.

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Harjo paints a bleak picture of her early life, but myth again guides her in her quest for meaning and healing. Water is a central but ambivalent image in “Returning from the Enemy” and takes on several meanings. The story of the watermonster, a creature in Native American legend associated with destruction, informs the story of her father who “loved the water” just as “the water loved him.” His affair with another woman, whom Harjo bitterly identifies as “the daughter of the watermonster,” broke up her family. In an ironic twist, water becomes an agent of revenge instead of a force associated with the destruction of her family when, in her anger, she imagines the colonizer disappearing “into the deep.” Although water can destroy, it can also cleanse and is critical to Harjo’s transformation. At the end of her psychological and spiritual purification, Harjo writes:

Our paths make luminous threads in the web of
  gravel and water.
The shimmer varies according to emotional tenor,
to the ability to make songs out of the debris of
as we climb from the watery gut to the stars.

She finally makes peace with her dead father’s memory, but the ritual in “Returning from the Enemy” is actually a preparation for another, more recent challenge. Harjo told Gould that, while she was writing the poem, she also

began untangling from a relationship that had many of the same tones as the relationship with my father. This relationship contained the same silencing, the same need for control, the same struggle with colonization, and there was an ongoing love that often appeared to disappear in the terrible waves of fear.

The process of disentangling herself from controlling love that began in “ceremony” culminates in “The Ceremony,” the opening poem of “This Is My Heart; It Is a Good Heart.” As Harjo prepares to move out of the home she shared with her lover, she “makes a ceremony for leaving,” walking through each room of the house she and her companion had “built together from scraps of earth and tenderness, through the aftermath of loving,” and saying good-bye to those things that “would be no longer intimate” to her.

Leaving behind relationships that are killing her emotionally and spiritually is essential to Harjo’s survival and growth as an artist. Death, whether it is psychological or spiritual, often shadows the shimmering images in her poetry. However, there is no death without rebirth, and the cycle of life reflected in nature is mirrored throughout the body of Harjo’s work. Emerging from the purgation rituals in “ceremony,” “Returning from the Enemy,” and “The Ceremony,” Harjo experiences a renewed sense of self in “This Is My Heart.” In contrast to Noni Daylight’s feelings of resignation and loss portrayed in “Kansas City,” “This Is My Heart” reflects the perspective of a middle-aged woman who has survived pain and fear and is now thriving. Each of four strophes begins with a statement of affirmation and satisfaction—“This is my heart. It is a good heart”; “My head is a good head”; “This is my soul. It is a good soul”; and “This is my song. It is a good song.” The recurrence of “It is a good” is reminiscent of the Genesis myth in which God pronounces each stage of creation “good.” In a sense, Harjo is emerging from her personal “fourth world” of darkness and suffering into a fifth world, where continued growth is now possible. She is living out her own perpetual creation myth, constantly dying and being reborn, as she develops as an artist and a human being.


Up to this point, Harjo has published an impressive body of original poetry and prose. However, continued growth cannot take place without stopping for periods of reflection. In How We Became Human: New and Selected PoemsPage 231  |  Top of Article(2002), Harjo compiles prose and poetry from her first chapbook and six preceding collections, offering a unique view of her evolution as an artist as well as her personal and spiritual development. In addition to the older poems, which are arranged according to publication title, an eighth section titled “New Poems, 1999–2001” includes thirteen previously uncollected works. “New Poems” treat many of the same feminist and social issues found in her previous work, but her perspective has matured. Also the Hawaiian landscape predominates as Harjo responds to her environment, and she draws more frequently on native Hawaiian myth, blending it with the Native American.

A few examples will illustrate these observations. “I’m Not Ready to Die Yet” is a meditation on the end of life. While her death “peers at the world through a plumeria tree” and eternity “blooms / With delectable mangoes, bananas,” her instinct for survival and enjoyment of life staves off death’s advances for the present. Yet she cannot avoid reflecting on the inevitable. As she imagines her ashes being scattered on the water, she envisions that

the city will go on shining
At the edge of the water ... Someone will be
Someone will be frying fish
The workmen will go home
To eat poi, pork, and rice,

and realizes the rhythm of life will continue without her. “Morning Prayers,” in which she says “good-bye to the girl / with her urgent prayers for redemption,” is a poignant lament for the lost idealism of youth and a moving reminder that middle age is often marked by uncertainty, loss of vision, and disillusionment.

The section closes with “When the World Ended as We Knew It,” a scathing revision of “Perhaps the World Ends Here” in The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. In an apparent reference to the terrorist attacks on the twin towers of the World Trade Center on September 11, 2001, Harjo speaks for the Indian community when she claims that “we knew it was coming.” Apocalyptic references to

two towers … from the east island of commerce

by a fire dragon, by oil and fear.
Eaten whole

and to “those who would steal to be president / to be king or emperor” amount to a bitter attack on the Euro-American social, economic, and political structures that have oppressed poor and dispossessed populations through the centuries and into the modern era. The comforting image of the kitchen table as a symbol of stability and continuance is gone, replaced by images of war and destruction. Nevertheless, hope remains a possibility.

The kick beneath the skin of the earth
we felt there, beneath us
a warm animal
a song being born between the legs of her,
a poem

underscores the power of language and the transcendence of nature to heal the wounds human beings inflict on one another and on the planet.

From the simple autobiographical lyrics of What Moon Drove Me to This? to the complex constructions and political commentary of She Had Some Horses and In Mad Love and War and finally to the luminous images and hard-won insights of A Map to the Next World and How We Became Human, Harjo has constantly strived to communicate growth, transcendence, and renewal. Her quest for self-definition and affirmation expressed through images from everyday life and Native American myth is not confined to her own people but is typical of the whole of humanity. As Harjo continues to Page 232  |  Top of Articlemature as a poet and as a human being, her vision will no doubt become even more expansive as she seeks to perceive the mystery that underlies physical reality. “I am still on that journey,” she writes. “The stuff I need for singing by whatever means is garnered from every thought, every heart that ever pounded the earth, the intelligence that directs the stars…. I take it from there, write or play through the heartbreak of the tenderness of being until I am the sky, the earth, the song and the singer.”

Selected Bibliography



The Last Song. Las Cruces, N. Mex.: Puerto Del Sol, 1975. (Chapbook.)

What Moon Drove Me to This? New York: I. Reed Books, 1979.

She Had Some Horses. New York: Thunder’s Mouth Press, 1983.

Secrets from the Center of the World. Photographs by Stephen Strom. Tucson: Sun Tracks and University of Arizona Press, 1989.

In Mad Love and War. Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1990.

Fishing. Browerville, Minn.: Ox Head, 1992. (Miniature fine press.)

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. New York: Norton, 1994.

A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales. New York: Norton, 2000.

How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems. New York: Norton, 2002.


“The Flood.” Grand Street 9, no. 4:77–79 (summer 1990).

“Boston.” Ploughshares 17, nos. 2–3:183–184 (fall 1991).


“Biopoetics Sketch for Greenfield Review.Greenfield Review 9:8–9 (winter 1981–1982).

“Oklahoma: The Prairie of Woods.” In The Remembered Earth: An Anthology of Contemporary Native American Literature. Edited by Geary Hobson. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 1981. Pp. 43–44.

The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. New York: Norton, 1994. (Audiocassette.)

“Joy Harjo.” In The Poet’s Notebook. Edited by Stephen Kuusisto, Deborah Tall, and David Weiss. New York: Norton, 1995. Pp. 80–93.

“My Sister, Myself: Two Paths to Survival.” Ms. 6:70–73 (September–October, 1995).

Harjo, Joy, and Gloria Bird, eds.Reinventing the Enemy’s Language: Contemporary Native Women’s Writing of North America. New York: Norton, 1997.

Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century. With Poetic Justice. Boulder, Colo.: Silver Wave Records, 1997. (Compact disc.)

“Finding the Groove.” In Sleeping with One Eye Open: Women Writers and the Art of Survival. Edited by Marilyn Kallet and Judith Ortiz Cofer. Athens, Ga.: University of Georgia Press, 1999. Pp. 151–152.

The Good Luck Cat. Illustrated by Paul Lee. San Diego: Harcourt, 2000. (Children’s fiction.)


Adamson, Joni. “And the Ground Spoke: Joy Harjo and the Struggle for a Land-Based Language.” In her American Indian Literature, Environmental Justice, and Ecocriticism: The Middle Place. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 2001. Pp. 116–127.

Allen, Paula Gunn. The Sacred Hoop: Recovering the Feminine in American Indian Traditions. Boston: Beacon, 1992.

Andrews, Jennifer. “In the Belly of a Laughing God: Reading Humor and Irony in the Poetry of Joy Harjo.” American Indian Quarterly 24, no. 2:200– 218 (spring 2000).

Arant, T. J. “Varieties of ‘Grace’: A Native American Poem.” English Journal 82, no. 5:99–103 (September 1993).

Bezner, Kevin. “‘A Song to Call the Deer in Creek’:The Creek Indian Heritage in Joy Harjo’s Poetry.” Eclectic Literary Forum 5, no. 3:44–46 (fall 1995).

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Bloom, Harold, ed. “Joy Harjo.” In Native American Women Writers. Philadelphia: Chelsea House, 1998. Pp. 38–49.

Donovan, Kathleen M. “Dark Continent/Dark Woman: Hélène Cixous and Joy Harjo.” In her Feminist Readings of Native American Literature: Coming to Voice. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1998. Pp. 139–159.

Goodman, Jenny. “Politics and the Personal Lyric in the Poetry of Joy Harjo and C. D. Wright.” MELUS 19, no. 2:35–55 (summer 1994).

Holmes, Kristine. “‘This Woman Can Cross Any Line’: Feminist Tricksters in the Works of Nora Naranjo-Morse and Joy Harjo.” Studies in American Indian Literatures 7, no. 1:45–63 (spring 1995).

Hussain, Azfar. “Joy Harjo and Her Poetics as Praxis.” Wicazo Sa Review 15, no. 2:27–62 (fall 2000).

Jahner, Elaine A. “Knowing All the Way Down to Fire.” In Feminist Measures: Soundings in Poetry and Theory. Edited by Lynn Keller and Cristanne Miller. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1994. Pp. 163–183.

Johnson, Robert. “Inspired Lines: Reading Joy Harjo’s Prose Poems.” American Indian Quarterly 23, no. 3–4:13–23 (summer–fall 1999).

Keyes, Claire. “Between Ruin and Celebration: Joy Harjo’s In Mad Love and War.Borderlines: Studies in American Culture 3, no. 4:389–395 (1996).

Lang, Nancy. “‘Twin Gods Bending Over’: Joy Harjo and Poetic Memory.” MELUS 18, no. 3:41–49 (fall 1993).

Leen, Mary. “An Art of Saying: Joy Harjo’s Poetry and the Survival of Storytelling.” American Indian Quarterly 19, no. 1:1–16 (winter 1995).

Lobo, Susan, and Kurt Peters, eds.American Indians and the Urban Experience. Walnut Creek, Calif.: Altamira Press, 2001.

Ludlow, Jeannie. “Working (In) the In-Between: Poetry, Criticism, Interrogation, and Interruption.” American Indian Literatures 6, no. 1:24–42 (spring 1994).

Luna, Christopher. “Joy Harjo.” Current Biography 62, no. 8:50–55 (August 2001).

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Source Citation   (MLA 8th Edition) 
Bochynski, Pegge. "Harjo, Joy 1951–." American Writers, Supplement 12, edited by Jay Parini, Charles Scribner's Sons, 2003, pp. 215-234. Gale Virtual Reference Library, http%3A%2F%2Flink.galegroup.com%2Fapps%2Fdoc%2FCX1380600021%2FGVRL%3Fu%3Dpuya65247%26sid%3DGVRL%26xid%3D3b69f9d9. Accessed 25 Mar. 2019.

Gale Document Number: GALE|CX1380600021

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  • “Anchorage” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 220-221
  • “Biopoetics Sketch for Greenfield Review” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 216
  • Bird, Gloria, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 216
  • Bush, Barney, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218
    • 1: 222
  • “Call It Fear” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 220
  • Carabi, Angels, Supp. VIII:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 215
  • Cardinale, Ernesto, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 225
  • “Ceremony, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 230
  • “Deer Dancer” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224-225
  • “Deer Ghost” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 225
  • Dickinson, Emily, I:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 226
  • “Eagle Poem” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224
    • 1: 226
  • “Evidence” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • “First Noni Daylight, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • “Fishing” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 227-228
  • “For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, Whose Spirit Is Present Here and in the Dappled Stars” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 225
  • “Four Horse Songs” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 220
  • “Going towards Pojoaque, A December Full Moon/72” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218
  • Gould, Janice, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 229
  • “Grace” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224
  • Gunn Allen, Paula, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 218
  • Harjo, Joy, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 215-234
  • “Heartbeat” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 221-222
  • How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 230-232
  • “I Am a Dangerous Woman” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 216
    • 1: 219
  • “I Give You Back” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 223
  • “I’m Not Ready to Die Yet” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 231
  • In Mad Love and War (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224-226
  • Jordan, June, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 217
  • “Kansas City Coyote” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
    • 1: 222
  • Last Song, The (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218
  • Le Sueur, Meridel, Supp. V:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
  • Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 223
  • “Letter from the End of the Twentieth Century” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 227
  • Li Po, Supp. XI:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 218
  • “Litany for Survival, A” (Lorde), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 220
  • “Looking Back” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218
  • Lorde, Audre, Supp. I Part 2:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
      • 1: 220
  • Map to the Next World, A: Poems and Tales (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 228-230
  • “Morning Prayers” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 231
  • Moyers, Bill, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
  • Neruda, Pablo, Supp. I Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
  • Olds, Sharon, Supp. X:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 229
  • “Origin” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • Ortiz, Simon J., Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
      • 1: 218
  • “Out” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • “Perhaps the World Ends Here” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 228
    • 1: 231
  • Peters, Jacqueline, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 225
  • Plath, Sylvia, Retro. Supp. II:
  • “Postcolonial Tale, A” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 227
  • “Promise of Blue Horses, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 228
  • “Real Revolution Is Love, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224
    • 1: 225-226
  • “Red Horse Wind over Albuquerque” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • Reinventing the Enemy’s Language:
    • Contemporary Native Women’s Writing of North America (Bird and Harjo, eds.), Supp. XII:
      • 1: 216
      • 1: 217
  • “Resurrection” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224
  • “Returning from the Enemy” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 229-230
  • Rich, Adrienne, Retro. Supp. I:
    • Supp. XII:
  • Rupert, Jim, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 215
  • Ruwe, Donelle R., Supp. XII:
    • 1: 215
  • Secrets from the Center of the World (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 223-224
  • Sexton, Anne, Retro. Supp. II:
  • She Had Some Horses (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 220-223
    • 1: 231
  • “She Had Some Horses” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 215
    • 1: 222
  • “She Remembers the Future” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 222
  • Silko, Leslie Marmon, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
  • Smith, Patricia Clark, Supp. IV Part 1:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 218
  • “Someone Talking” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219-220
  • “Sonata for the Invisible” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 228
  • “Song for Myself and the Deer to Return On” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 225
  • “Songline of Dawn” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 229
  • Spiral of Memory, The: Interviews (Coltelli, ed.), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 215
  • “Strange Fruit” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 224
    • 1: 225
  • Strom, Stephen, Supp. XII:
    • 1: 223
  • “Swimming” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218
  • “This Is My Heart” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 230
  • “Transformations” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 226
  • “Warrior Road” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 217
  • “Watching Crow, Looking toward the Manzano Mountains” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 219
  • What Moon Drove Me to This? (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 218-220
  • “When the World Ended as We Knew It” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 231
  • “Witness” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 227-228
  • “Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 216
    • 1: 221
  • Woman Who Fell from the Sky, The (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 226-228
  • “World Ends Here, The” (Harjo), Supp. XII:
    • 1: 227-228
  • Wright, James, I:
    • Supp. XII:
      • 1: 217
  • Yeats, William Butler, I: