Keep Moving: A Moment with Joy Harjo
I had the honor and privilege to sit and speak with legendary poet, author, musician, Joy Harjo. Joy, is of Mvskoke (Creek) and Cherokee descent; hailng from Tulsa, Oklahoma, she has been a major voice in the literary period called, the Native American Renaissance of the late 20th century. I met Joy the first time a few years ago at the Mvskoke ceremonial grounds I belong too. My mother, Joyce, introduced us (and me to her work). I have been a Joy Harjo fan since then (Mvto, Mom).
Here, I asked Joy about her current projects amongst other things…I really appreciated my time with her and this exchange will remain a treasure in my memory forever. Thank you, Joy. I hope you all enjoy this as much as I did.
I love the way you write; how would you describe your style of writing?
It’s of my own influence….hmm, I have never been asked that question. Although, as a painter and artist, it has evolved out of truth telling. If you ask other people they likely call it political or contemporary Native American.
Can you recall your first published writing?
It was from the University of New Mexico student magazine, “Thunderbird”. It was a poem titled, “Tulsa Blues” .
What is it like to recieve so much praise from others?
Well, you cant get too attatched to praise. Take care of the spirit of writing. My praise goes to the spirit. At times, I don’t always ways know where it all comes from.
Your first volume of published poetry is called ” The Last Song”. Where did that title come from?
It was a chap book. A small book, and the title came from a poem in the book.
I know you are Mvskoke and Cherokee, how has being a native woman changed over the years?
Much has changed. I am from the generation that fought for Native rights. Some things have changed and some haven’t. I see, now, many more self-assured Natives than there use to be.
Mvskoke people attend ceremonial grounds where they stompdance. the men are the singers (leaders), the women are dancers (called, the rhythm). The women “shake” turtle shells. What does that mean to you and historically?
Well it’s the root of Mvskoke people….It’s our culture…
Tell us the first instrument you learned to play?
It was the clarinet in 5th and 6th grade. I wanted to play the saxophone, but the teacher wouldn’t let me because I was a girl. So…I quit the band. I have been playing the saxophone for 20-plus years, now.
Tell me, who have you really enjoyed working with musicially?
John Williams of ” Native Roots” and “Poetic Justice”, Larry Mitchell…and opening for the Indigo girls.
Which musicians inspire you to create your own music?
John Coltrane to me. He is, IT. Bonnnie Raiit, Bruce Colburn and Jerry Pepper (of Kaw and Mvskoke descent).
I love how bold and honest your lyrics are. Do you receive negative criticism for your lyrics?
Some people will like you and some people will not. The most difficult barriers have been jealousy and also sexisim and racism. As a woman you can’t let that stop you have to move, keep moving through the racism and culturism, believing in what you’re doing..that it’s what you love. Give it your full attention.
What was the best part of art school?
I attended the Institute of Native American Arts. It was the first time I was in a community of Native artists. The first time in my life I belonged. It came to be an important thing in my life.
What award has meant the most to you and why?
Being inducted into the Mvskoke Hall of Fame.
What do you want women of the next generation to seek?
You have to take care of your spirit. Unhook from all your devices … go out at dawn and pray…have gratitude, and take care of yourselves. We often deal with alot more than men do. Sometimes demands on women are relentless. It’s important to nourish our soul and to take time for yourself. Center yourself, perhaps even write in a journal.
Hawaii is so far away from Oklahoma, so different, you had lived there awhile, what is your favorite thing about Hawaii?
The water. The Ocean became one of my best teachers.
Describe your favorite part of life today?
That’s hard to say….hmm, I love life so much: family, students, and community. I’ve lived in Sante Fe, Hawaii, and Hollywood…yet, here is nothing like being around your own people. I am home, now.
Joy said she is currently working on publishing another book of poetry. Thank you, Joy.
She also said to keep moving in the direction your spirit tells you to go.
I know I definetely will. I hope each of you do as well.
💜 by Amethyst
💜 photos: courtesy of Joy, herself.
💜 MVTO, pronounced, Muh-doh, is thank you, in the Muskogee language.