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Moving freely between the everyday and the eternal, her poems defy centuries of colonial deprivation, often excavating and incorporating Muscogee history, culture, and identity.Her surname, taken from her grandmother, means “so brave it’s crazy.” It is a fitting description for her body of work, which was recognized with the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize in 2017.
The following small sampling serves as a brief introduction to her wide range of poetry.
“She Had Some Horses” Harjo may still be best known for her landmark book (1983), whose powerful explorations of Native American womanhood have been widely praised and anthologized.
But in this poem, she also exists on her own terms, present, embodied, contemporary—and stranded in “the terminal of stopped time” alongside everyone else.“An American Sunrise” First published in magazine in 2017, “Sunrise” is a model of the new Golden Shovel form: each of its long lines ends with a word taken from “We Real Cool,” the same Gwendolyn Brooks poem that inspired Terrance Hayes to invent the form.
But Harjo also pays tribute to Brooks, another poet of social observation and political activism, through the poem’s setting, capturing the bluesy mood of a juke joint with just a few quick images.
Citizens are expected to understand the rules that our government has presented to us, abide by these rules for our own well being and freedom, and serve our communities and government back.
In 1789, the Constitution of the United States was ratified.” Writing from what she, in the poem "A Refuge in the Smallest of Places," calls “the timeless room of lost poetry” Harjo makes the case that her work, though painful, is a necessary act not just of commemoration but activism for this generation’s exiles, making their way north into a place where “demons” come “with ropes and cages / To take my children from me and imprison us.” Though the poems often invoke the pain of exile and genocide, they are also deeply concerned with the speaker’s positive relationships to nature, artistic expression, romantic love, and motherhood.In the sweet “My Man’s Feet,” the lover celebrates: “They are heroic roots / You cannot mistake them / For any other six-foot walker / I could find them in a sea of feet / A planet or universe of feet.” Likewise, the theme of generations is a frequent source of joy and hope, as in “Seven Generations”: “Beneath a sky thrown open / to the need of stars / To know themselves against the dark...dance the weave of joy and tears / All night we’re lit with the sunrise of forever / Just ahead of us, through the trees / One generation after the other.” It’s impossible to read Harjo’s furious and mournful poems of loss without your heart aching.In the aftermath of the 2016 election, the revelry the poem describes is pointedly political, at once a defiant and (unfortunately) unsurprised lament.“We are still America,” Harjo writes, “and we still want justice.” Benjamin Voigt grew up on a horse farm in upstate New York.In her new poetry collection, , Harjo’s subject is the 19th-century forced exile of the Mvskoke people from their homeland east of the Mississippi to the Oklahoma Territory.The poems, which are dazzling in their mix of mourning and fierce seizing of joy, are interspersed with brief accounts of Harjo’s family history and attendant moments in American history.The poem can be read as a sort of ars poetica: much of Harjo’s work seeks that same grace she and Wind sought then, that balance between a colonized past and an unimagined future, the “stubborn memory” of genocide and “hope of children and corn.”“Insomnia and the Seven Steps to Grace” Like “Grace,” this piece from (1996) connects the lyric to the historic or cosmic, this time imagining the poem’s domestic scene as part of a vast, living tapestry.Here “stars gossip” and the night sky, “the panther of the heavens,” ruminates just like the poem’s other insomniacs.The collection’s incantatory title poem is a feminist masterpiece, pairing surrealist imagery and searing autobiographical snapshots.Read aloud, the poem is at once testimony and prayer, its chant-like repetition allowing the multiple (and sometimes contradictory) selves Harjo describes to exist simultaneously.“My House is the Red Earth” As a multi-genre, multimedia artist, Harjo has often crossed aesthetic boundaries and defied easy classification.