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Indian Times: Joy Harjo to be at the Jacobson House in Norman (Jun 01, 2012)

Joy Harjo, who is from the Muscogee Creek Nation, has been a mainstay on the Native American art scene for many years as a poet with a knack for expressing the indigenous female point of view but she’s also taken to expressing herself thru music.

Harjo:  I have a music audience that knows nothing about the poetry and poetry audiences …literary audiences,  that usually doesn’t really know much about the music at all.  I’ve really tried to connect them… but I have 4 CD’s of music out and got several books including two children’s books, 7 books of poetry, and an anthology of native women’s writing… and now this memoir which is different from anything I’ve done. It’s basically a story that begins before I’m born and winds up right at the time I start writing poetry because the spirit of poetry basically came to me, and it came at a crucial time in my life.  Poetry began teaching me how to, you know, the power of words,in my own life and in the life of my people and so on…so its been quite a journey.  Poetry is also the spirit, the spirit of poetry has also taught me that poetry and music and dance belong together and I remember thinking about when I was writing  and my books were coming out, thinking okay, in the Muscogee tradition, how does poetry find its way?  I think its at the heart of any cultural tradition.  And I realize that with our people it is combined with music and dance and that in most cultures, their music and poetry are shoulder to shoulder.

Harjo is a traveler, having put down roots in Hawaii and New Mexico at different times in her life, but she has returned to Oklahoma.

Harjo:  I always thought  that, you know, that I would get a little place here and come back and be here in the summer or you know, part of the year and I had no idea that I would be moving my main residence back here.  And then last August I came back to help my mother, who was dying.  Then I left after that and everything fell into place for me to buy my sister’s house in Glenpool…so this time coming back it feels like I’m exactly where I need to be.  You know I’ve lived in Hawaii for almost 12 years at one point, and sometimes I think, well,  in a way it is almost like being on an island (laughter)…you know? It is, if you think of the rest of the country, kind of a very conservative, or very, kind of a, how do I say …one track of mind that really doesn’t really match up with my experience in my mind.  But what’s at the root here are my ancestors and who I’m close to, you know, they’re very much alive in their frequency and I’m exactly where I need to be and every day I make some kind of a discovery, inner deep discovery by being here and being back with the people, and that part of it… I like.

Her new book is something different; it’s a memoir with a provocative title, Crazy Brave.

HarjoCrazy Brave came about, you know sometimes …it just comes, the titles, just like when you’re writing, you don’t always know what you’re doing and suddenly, there the title was. And it made a lot of sense because “Harjo” means so brave you’re… well, there’s many different definitions… but it means so brave you’re crazy, basically.   I don’t think I ever explained that in the book at all.  And there are many times in the book I say that I was not brave at all.  (Laughter)  I have in my life… a lot of people know about my accomplishments,  but I always say that my list of failures is quite long and I don’t know that I’m a brave person.  I’ve been very foolish maybe that’s what the (laughs) that’s what  the book is about is about,  going through, you know, all these difficulties. I don’t always overcome them, but somehow I wind up at this place where the poetry, the music, you know, come in to show me a way. And I decided… its interesting, because I didn’t want to write this book at all.  I was 14 years late at getting this book in and that’s not like me. I have a really good reputation , you know I get my work in, I love what I do and I like to do what I do with an attempt at craft,  and live my life with some attention to detail. But I realized later that it was because this was the book that wanted to be written.  And I kept running away from it because I didn’t want to tell about growing up. I didn’t want to tell about being a teenage mother, (sighs) I didn’t want to tell about Indian school… and then I realized that it would be helpful to people, maybe it would helpful to young people coming up, or even to parts of ourselves that when we’re older we don’t want to accept a very important part of our story, because , those difficulties are how we gain insight… how we gain knowledge… and they’re important.

That was Joy Harjo who will be appearing at the Jacobson House in Norman next Friday, June 8, at 7pm.  It is free and open to the public.

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