I just finished reading Joy Harjo’s two memoirs: Crazy Brave and Poet Warrior. Harjo is a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation and was the 2019 United States Poet Laureate, her home being Tulsa, Oklahoma. One day this summer, while searching in a bookstore for my next read, I landed upon one of the books mentioned above, and two months later, purchased the next. Such wonderful writing and wisdom.
Don’t take offense poets, but it’s often I just don’t “get it.” By that, I mean I don’t understand the certain meaning of poems, although I find the words beautiful. Powerful descriptions and rhythms. I have to admit, I struggled with a few poems in our own book, written by Sally and Diana. Luckily, they were okay with that.
Joy Harjo’s poetry holds honest personal messages, not only for her, but for all of us. Admittedly, there were a few poems I struggled to understand, but that’s not unusual for me. I found her story and those of the indigenous as reading I couldn’t put down.
Years ago, while living in western Nebraska, my curiosity was sparked and I became enamored with Indian culture, especially their art and jewelry. This was long before we lived in Tucson for twelve years, influenced by the Tohono O’odham and the Pascua Yaqui Indians. The ironic part is Mari Sandoz lived in western Nebraska, in the Sandhills. I may have heard of her, but never read one of her books until much later in life. She authored books like These Were the Sioux and Sandhill Sundays, describing her relationship with the Natives there.
I’m not sure why I was so interested in the indigenous. Living in central Nebraska, I had little exposure to Indians. Derived from our school readings, I viewed them as warriors from the past, makers of arrowheads. Nothing else.
In the seventies and eighties, my husband and I and our children lived 79 miles from the Pine Ridge Reservation. It was the first time I’d heard of it. However, I liked the name “Pine Ridge” and thought it sounded cool but was totally unaware of their lives, the vast poverty (check re-member.org) until I had a young Indian student around age nine, bused from Pine Ridge to a close school I was serving as a speech therapist. I was told he had language problems. I could never discern if he did because he spoke very little and lowered his eyes, not participating in any spontaneous conversation. I didn’t understand the reason. I only saw him a few times before he stopped coming. I never asked why.
More than any history book or novel, Harjo’s recounting of tribal myth, ancestry, music and poetry has educated me. That’s what writing can do. That’s what reading can do. There are so many books with authentic voices, like Harjo’s. So many books to help us see a world besides our own. I’m looking forward to reading Joy Harjo’s American Sunrise as soon as I get to the bookstore. I want to know so much more.