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Joy Harjo
Based on a handout from Mrs Kim's class


Joy Harjo was born on May 9, 1951 in Tulsa, OK. Her parents, Allen W. and Wynema Baker Foster, were avid Muscogee painters. Though not a full blooded Native American, she wished to become an enrolled member of the Muscogee tribe and follow in her parent's artistic footsteps. She pursued art as a major in college, but later switched to poetry upon realizing her interest in the subject. She attended the University of New Mexico and recieved a degree in poetry in 1976, later moving on to earn a degree in creative writing from the University of Iowa in 1978.

Beginning her adult life, Joy started publishing poetry while simultaneously developing a teaching career, educating at such institutions as the Institute of American Indian Arts, ASU, the University of Colorado and eventually for a long period at the University of New Mexico. As a teacher, she released some of her most famous works, poetry collections such as The Last Song, What Moon Drove Me to This, She Had Some Horses, Secrets from the Center of the World, In Mad Love and War and The Woman Who Fell from the Sky. To supplement her writing and teaching careers, she now plays in a band, Poetic Justice, setting her poetry to modern experimental music. She writes songs and performs vocals for the group, which has won many accolades in recent years.

Joy lists her biggest inspirations as Native American authors like Leslie Silko and Simon Ortiz. Though never having lived on a reservation she tends to write about the Native American experience, but often branches out into other topics of interest.


"Autobiography" - a short poem

We lived next door to the bootlegger, and we were lucky. The bootlegger reigned. We were a stolen people in a stolen land. Oklahoma meant defeat. But the sacred lands have their own plans, seep through fingers of the alcohol spirit. Nothing can be forgotten, only left behind.

Last week I saw the river where the hickory stood; this homeland doesn't predict a legacy of malls and hotels. Dreams aren't glass and steel but made from the hearts of the deer, the blazing eye of a circling panther. Translating them was to understand the death count from Alabama, the destruction of grandchildren, famine of stories. I didn't think I could stand it. My father couldn't. He searched out his death with the vengence of a warrior who has been the hunted. It's in our blood.

Even at two I knew we were different. Could through the eyes of strangers that we were trespassers in the promised land. The Sooner State glorified the thief. Everyone and no one was Indian. You'd best forget, claim a white star. At three my mother told me this story: God decided to make people. He put the first batch in the oven, kept them in too long. They burned. These were the black people. God put in the next batch. They were uncooked, not done. These were the white people. But the next batch he cooked just right, and these were the Indian people, just like you.

By then I was confused.

At five I was designated to string beads in kindergarten. At seven I knew how to play chicken and win. And at fourteen I was drinking.

I found myself in a city in the Southwest at twenty-one, when my past came into focus. It was near midnight. We were walking home and there he was, curled in the snow on the sidewalk, that man from Jemez. We had all been cheated. He hid his shame beneath a cold, downy blanket. We hid ours in poems. We took him home, where he shivered and cried through the night like a fighting storm, then woke in the morning, knowing nothing. Later I would see him on the street, the same age I am now. It was my long dark hair that cued his daughter, the chili, the songs. And I talked to him as if he were my father, with that respect, that hunger.

I have long since outlived that man from Jemez, my father and that ragged self I chased through precarious years. But I carry them with me the same as this body carries the heart as a drum. Yesterday there was rain traveling east to home. A hummingbird spoke. She was a shining piece of invisible memory, inside the raw cortex of songs. I knew then this was the Muscogee season of forgiveness, time of new corn, the spiraling dance.

"How Do We Get Out of Here, Or, Reality Show" - a shorter poem with a longer title

What are we doing in this mess of forgetfulness
Ruled by sharp things
Baby girls in stiletto heels
We call it real.

What are we doing napping through war
We've lost our place in the order of kindness
Children are killing children
We call it real.

How do we get out of here
Smoke hole crowded with too much thinking
Too many seers and prophets
of prosperity
We call it real.