Joy Harjo

American Poet Laureate

Joy Harjo (May 9, 1951) is a poet, musician, author and the first Native American United States Poet Laureate.

Joy Harjo in 2019


  • Each of us is descended from poetry ancestors. It’s the same for any art, any occupation. There is a lineage of style, knowledge and culture passed from generation to generation, one artist to another. Ultimately all poetry is related in the family tree of poetry…
  • Poetry is the art that is closest to music, standing between music and narrative orality (which can be speechmaking, sermon or theater). Poetry is the voice of what can’t be spoken, the mode of truth-telling when meaning needs to rise above or skim below everyday language in shapes not discernible by the ordinary mind. It trumps the rhetoric of politicians. Poetry is prophetic by nature and not bound by time. Because of these qualities poetry carries grief, heartache, ecstasy, celebration, despair, or searing truth more directly than any other literary art form. It is ceremonial in nature. Poetry is a tool for disruption and creation and is necessary for generations of humans to know who they are and who they are becoming in the wave map of history. Without poetry, we lose our way.
  • A lot of images [of Native Americans] are based on fairy tales or Wild West shows. We are human beings, not just people who have been created for people’s fantasy worlds. There’s not just one Native American. We’re diverse by community, by land, by language, by culture. In fact, we go by our tribal names, and there are 573 tribal nations.
  • It’s about learning to listen, much like in music. You can train your ears to history. You can train your ears to the earth. You can train your ears to the wind. It’s important to listen and then to study the world, like astronomy or geology or the names of birds. A lot of poets can be semihistorians. Poetry is very mathematical. There’s a lot in the theoretical parts that is similar. Quantum physicists remind me of mystics. They are aware of what happens in timelessness, though they speak of it through theories and equations.
  • I think it’s easier to honor the male in our culture because it’s much more accepted. There are almost no truly powerful and sustained images of female power. None. Look at Marilyn Monroe? The Virgin Mary? And what images exist for Indian women? The big question is, How do we describe ourselves as women in this culture? It’s unclear.

Quotes about Joy HarjoEdit

  • It is my conviction that currently in the United States, more women than men are writing good and vital poetry, although there are fine male poets. This is our renaissance, our Elizabethan plenty. We have giants like Adrienne Rich, Audre Lorde, Diane di Prima and Maxine Kumin, we have rising powers like Joy Harjo and Celia Gilbert and Sharon Olds, and we have dozens and dozens of individual voices sharply flavored and yet of our time, our flesh, our troubles.
    • Marge Piercy Introduction to Early Ripening: American Women's Poetry Now (1987)

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