Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo, A Review

“Until we understand and act as if we are the earth, each of us will experience the pain of separation from sacred knowledge, from ourselves.” ~ Joy Harjo

Poet Warrior is a lyrical transmission of wisdom teaching, to everyone but particularly to those who are parents of youth, or those who serve youth like teachers and counselors. Joy Harjo restores to herself the rites of passage denied her and in so doing she restores that possibility for each one of us, including those who have become elders without being initiated into selfhood.

The absence of rites of passage for our children and youth is a symptom of the broken chain of life that we can mend by reimagining our initiations into selfhood. Joy Harjo does this through her poetry, visualizing and making manifest the ceremony of becoming for herself.

Here is a paraphrase of her words describing how she does this. These words form a template for how we can enact our own rites of passage, efficiently and swiftly, so that we can serve our youth. I dare say we have an obligation to do this. It is a step towards enhanced consciousness. 

I construct a doorway where sunrise is a line above a dark blue horizon My grandmothers and great grandmothers gather round and speak. I am worthy of love, of tenderness, of all I need to create a future. The world lives within the cradle of my hips. This girl is every girl.

I grew up in a very different part of the world from where Joy Harjo was born in Oklahoma. The Bronx was another kind of reservation, but it was also a reservation of the poor. Like Joy Harjo, I was saved by poetry, by the internal songs that were kept safe by not being uttered. We were enslaved witnesses to the ways our parents tortured each other. We were ensnared in the violence they spawned, and in their midst we wrote poetry, frequently hiding it from their view. Perhaps our poems were our self-created rites of passage.

By weaving poetry, memoir, wisdom transmission and historical, even political, reflection into one concise tome (only 226 pages, each one rich with beauty), Joy Harjo gives me a model for free-flowing, authentic memoir. This is liberating for those of us who wear so many hats that our hair is wild and cannot be tamed.

I bow to you, Poet Laureate of the United States.

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