Joy Harjo poet laureate

Poet, writer and musician Joy Harjo has been named the country’s 23rd poet laureate. She is a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and often draws on Native American stories, languages and myths. But she says that she’s not self-consciously trying to bring that material into her work. If anything, it’s the other way around.

“I think the culture is bringing me into it with poetry — that it’s part of me,” Harjo says in an interview with NPR’s Lynn Neary. “I don’t think about it … And so it doesn’t necessarily become a self-conscious thing — it’s just there … When you grow up as a person in your culture, you have your culture and you’re in it, but you’re also in this American culture, and that’s another layer.”

Joy Harjo Becomes The First Native American U.S. Poet Laureate
June 19, 2019. Heard on All Things Considered, Lynn Neary and Patrick Jarenwattananon at NPR headquarters in Washington, D.C., May 21, 2019.

What do you most want readers to gain from the experience of reading your poetry?

I’d like for readers to see that poetry is not without a door, or many doors. I loved poetry as a child but not the way it was taught. How were we supposed to know what the poet meant, especially when they were from England of a century or two before (or what felt like a century or two before) and spoke differently? If you tell someone to read a poem the way you’d listen to a song of their favorite music, it might change perception. I’d like to hand them a poetry that would give them the notion that yes, you can write about what you see, hear, know, from their own familial, cultural or historical point of view. And maybe the readers will be motivated to write their own songs, stories and poems.

Joy Interviewed on the Jitney, May 29, 2019

Although I had seen the announcement for poet laureate, it was during research about conflict resolution/transformation that I came across her book, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems.


If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”

The lands and waters they gave us did not belong to them to give. Under false pretenses we signed. After drugging by drink, we signed. With a mass of gunpower pointed at us, we signed. With a flotilla of war ships at our shores, we signed. We are still signing. We have found no peace in this act of signing.

A casino was raised up over the gravesite of our ancestors. Our own distant cousins pulled up the bones of grandparents, parents, and grandchildren from their last sleeping place. They had forgotten how to be human beings. Restless winds emerged from the earth when the graves were open and the winds went looking for justice.

If you raise this white flag of peace, we will honor it.

At Sand Creek several hundred women, children, and men were slaughtered in an unspeakable massacre, after a white flag was raised. The American soldiers trampled the white flag in the blood of the peacemakers.

There is a suicide epidemic among native children. It is triple the rate of the rest of America. “It feels like wartime,” said a child welfare worker in South Dakota.

If you send your children to our schools we will train them to get along in this changing world. We will educate them.

We had no choice. They took our children. Some ran away and froze to death. If they were found they were dragged back to the school and punished. They cut their hair, took away their language, until they became as strangers to themselves even as they became strangers to us.

If you sign this paper we will become brothers. We will no longer fight. We will give you this land and these waters in exchange “as long as the grass shall grow and the rivers run.”

Put your hand on this bible, this blade, this pen, this oil derrick, this gun and you will gain trust and respect with us. Now we can speak together as one.

We say, put down your papers, your tools of coercion, your false promises, your posture of superiority and sit with us before the fire. We will share food, songs, and stories. We will gather beneath starlight and dance, and rise together at sunrise.

The sun rose over the Potomac this morning, over the city surrounding the white house. It blazed scarlet, a fire opening truth. White House, or Chogo Hvtke, means the house of the peacekeeper, the keepers of justice. We have crossed this river to speak to the white leader for peace many times Since these settlers first arrived in our territory and made this their place of governance. These streets are our old trails, curved to fit around trees.

Harjo, Joy. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings: Poems (pp. 78-80). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
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