Joy Harjo is an internationally known performer and writer of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, the author of ten books of poetry and, most recently, a memoir, Crazy Brave. A critically acclaimed poet, her many honours include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
In June 2019, Joy Harjo was appointed U.S. Poet Laureate.
Joy Harjo has been a crucial figure in American letters for decades, and her latest collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, presents her at the height of her powers.
Joy Harjo has been a crucial figure in American letters for decades, and her latest collection, Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings, presents her at the height of her powers. Intermingling Mvskoke storytelling, rock-and-roll lyrics, cityscapes and personal address, Harjo’s poems are at once sweeping in their concerns and intimate in their tone and approach. Harjo’s is a poetics that is not afraid to speak directly when the moment warrants, nor to refer to traditions – literary traditions, folk traditions, musical traditions – with effortless erudition. Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings is a book of transitions and transformations, inhabiting liminal spaces like hotel rooms and deteriorating natural landscapes. The poems urge engagement, but they also encourage a wider perspective, because for Harjo even ‘the edge between life and death is thinner than a dried animal bladder.’ In the midst of profound change both personal and global, these poems offer guidance and empathy, ceremony and admonishment, wisdom, comfort and song.
by Joy Harjo
1. SET CONFLICT RESOLUTION GROUND RULES:
Recognize whose lands these are on which we stand.
Ask the deer, turtle, and the crane.
Make sure the spirits of these lands are respected and treated with goodwill.
The land is a being who remembers everything.
You will have to answer to your children, and their children, and theirs—
The red shimmer of remembering will compel you up the night to walk the perimeter of truth for understanding.
As I brushed my hair over the hotel sink to get ready I heard:
By listening we will understand who we are in this holy realm of words.
Do not parade, pleased with yourself.
You must speak in the language of justice.
Copyright © 2015
from “Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings”
I have lived 19,404 midnights, some of them in the quaver of
And some without any memory at all, just the flash of the
From a night rainbow, to an island of fire and flowers – such
Leap between forgetting and jazz. How long has it been
since I called you back?
After Albuquerque with my baby in diapers on my hip; it
was a difficult birth,
I was just past girlhood slammed into motherhood. What a
Beyond the door of my tongue is a rail and I’m leaning over
to watch bears
Catch salmon in their teeth. That realm isn’t anywhere near
Los Angeles. If I dream
It all back then I reconstruct that song buried in the muscle
of urgency. I’m bereft
In the lost nation of debtors. Wey yo hey, wey yo hey yah
hey. Pepper jumped
And some of us went with him to the stomp. All night,
beyond midnight, back
Up into the sky, holy.
Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo
from We Were There When Jazz Was Invented
Shining persons arrive here
Ha yut ke lani
Open your being
Ha yut ke jate
In every small thought of what to fix
In every immense thought of dancers winding through the
Ha yut ke lvste
What obscures, falls away.
Ha yut ke hutke
Copyright © 2015 by Joy Harjo
Sunrise Healing Song
I believe in the sun.
In the tangle of human failures of fear, greed, and
forgetfulness, the sun gives me clarity.
When explorers first encountered my people, they called us
heathens, sun worshippers.
They didn’t understand that the sun is a relative, and
illuminates our path on this earth.
After dancing all night in a circle we realize that we are
a part of a larger sense of stars and planets dancing with us
When the sun rises at the apex of the ceremony, we are
There is no mistaking this connection, though Walmart
might be just down the road.
Humans are vulnerable and rely on the kindnesses of the
earth and the sun; we exist together in a sacred field of
Our earth is shifting. We can all see it.
I hear from my Inuit and Yupik relatives up north that
everything has changed. It’s so hot; there is not enough
Animals are confused. Ice is melting.
The quantum physicists have it right; they are beginning to
think like Indians: everything is connected dynamically
at an intimate level.
When you remember this, then the current wobble of the
earth makes sense. How much more oil can be drained,
Without replacement; without reciprocity?
I walked out of a hotel room just off Times Square at dawn
to find the sun.
It was the fourth morning since the birth of my fourth
This was the morning I was to present her to the sun, as a
relative, as one of us. It was still dark, overcast as I walked
through Times Square.
I stood beneath a twenty-first century totem pole of symbols
of multinational corporations, made of flash and neon.
The sun rose up over the city but I couldn’t see it amidst the
Though I was not at home, bundling up the baby to carry
I carried this newborn girl within the cradleboard of my
I held her up and presented her to the sun, so she would be
recognized as a relative,
So that she won’t forget this connection, this promise,
So that we all remember, the sacredness of life.
Copyright © 2015