Tag Archives: Joy Harjo

Video of the Week: Poetry Reading


Presented by the Academy of American Poets in November of 2021.

Review of When the Light of the World was Subdued, our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry, edited by Joy Harjo


Joy Harjo is the current Poet Laureate of the United States. She started this project before she took on the office. (She has since edited a second such anthology.) She was ably assisted by associate editors, contributing editors, and regional advisors. It is a huge undertaking, gathering together the work of 161 poets, representing 100 indigenous nations (out of 573 federally recognized tribal nations), containing more than more than 240 poems. But there is so much more—commentary about native culture and history; bios of the individual poets. It took me a long time (eight months) to read the 425 pages, and I fully intend to reread it several more times.

The book is full of pain, but also tradition, spirituality, beauty, wonder, diversity, respect for nature, and even some humor. I learned a lot. The book deserves pondering. North American indigenous peoples have a long literary history. “The earliest recorded written by a Native person was composed as an elegy by ‘Eleazar,’ a senior at Harvard College in 1678,” but there was a rich oral tradition before then.

I didn’t obtain permissions to reprint any of these poems, but I have located online some of the ones that moved me. I include these links and videos below so you can determine if you might want to read this book yourself.

Jim Northrup, “Shrinking Away”:

M. Scott Momady, “The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee

Layli Long Soldier, “38

Tanaya Winder, “The Milky Way Escapes My Mouth

Dian Million, “The Housing Poem

Joe Balaz, “Charlene

Sherman Alexie, “The Summer of Black Widows

Anita Endrezze, “The Wall

Gladys Cardiff, “To Frighten a Storm

Imaikalani Kalahele, “Make Rope

Nora Marks Dauenhauer, “How to Make Good Baked Salmon from the River,” introduced and read by Joy Harjo:

This book is an excellent resource for white people like me who want to explore the culture and history of the First Nations.

Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo

Review of Crazy Brave: A Memoir, by Joy Harjo



Joy Harjo is the current poet laureate of the United States, the first Native American to hold that position. I bought this book because I wanted to learn more about her.

Harjo is almost the same age as me, which made me like her immediately. However, our life experiences couldn’t be more different.

Harjo starts her memoir with the story of her parents and ends with her young adulthood. Her writing style is musical—even her prose is poetic. The poems included in the book reflect her native culture, which is woven throughout.

As a child, Joy was a good student, an artist who loved poetry, photography, and music.

Harjo’s parents divorced, and her mother married an older white man who physically and emotionally abused her and Joy and Joy’s sister and brothers.

Her stepfather wanted Joy gone, so he suggested sending her to a fundamentalist Christian school. Joy asked instead to be sent to an Indian boarding school, so she would have classmates who looked like her. The family applied through the Bureau of Indian Affairs and she was sent to the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe. She studied art and theater in addition to her academic subjects. When she graduated from the high school program, she was pregnant. The baby’s father promised to send her money to join him, but he didn’t.crazy brave

Joy borrowed bus money from her brother to travel to her baby daddy’s home. They married, but the marriage didn’t last.

With tribal assistance, Harjo entered the University of New Mexico in a premed program. After one semester, she changed her major to studio art. She met a student who wrote poetry. Joy had always loved poetry; she had loved to recite it as a child. She thought poetry had to be in English. This young man wrote poetry about his tribe and his pueblo and his people and their ideals. He changed the way Harjo thought about poetry. She fell in love with the student, and he beat her. She bore him a daughter and named her Rainy Dawn. He was an alcoholic, and she eventually left him. The book ends shortly thereafter, with Harjo pursuing poetry.

This is an excellent book for a white person to read, especially one whose experience with Native Americans is as non-existent as mine. It’s eye-opening.