This weeks Saturday Poetry, matched with mobile photography/art is entitled ‘Once the World was Perfect’ by Joy Harjo. Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma on May 9, 1951, and is a member of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation.
Harjo received a BA degree from the University of New Mexico before earning an MFA from the Iowa Writers Workshop in 1978.
She is the author of several books of poetry, including Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings (W. W. Norton, 2015); How We Became Human: New and Selected Poems (W. W. Norton, 2002); The Woman Who Fell From the Sky (W. W. Norton, 1994), which received the Oklahoma Book Arts Award; In Mad Love and War (Wesleyan University Press, 1990), which received an American Book Award and the Delmore Schwartz Memorial Award; and What Moon Drove Me to This? (Reed Books, 1979). She is also the author of the memoir Crazy Brave (W. W. Norton, 2012), which won the 2013 PEN Center USA literary prize for creative nonfiction.
Also a performer, Harjo has appeared on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam in venues across the U.S. and internationally. She plays saxophone with her band Poetic Justice, and has released four award-winning CD’s of original music. In 2009, she won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year.
Harjo’s other honors include the PEN Open Book Award, the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the Mountains and Plains Booksellers Award, the William Carlos Williams Award from the Poetry Society of America, and fellowships from the Arizona Commission on the Arts, the Witter Bynner Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.
In 2015 she received thee Wallace Stevens Award for proven mastery in the art of poetry from the Academy of American Poets. About Harjo, Academy of American Poets Chancellor Alicia Ostiker said, “Throughout her extraordinary career as poet, storyteller, musician, memoirist, playwright and activist, Joy Harjo has worked to expand our American language, culture, and soul. A Creek Indian and student of First Nation history, Harjo is rooted simultaneously in the natural world, in earth—especially the landscape of the American southwest—and in the spirit world. Aided by these redemptive forces of nature and spirit, incorporating native traditions of prayer and myth into a powerfully contemporary idiom, her visionary justice-seeking art transforms personal and collective bitterness to beauty, fragmentation to wholeness, and trauma to healing.”
She was elected a Chancellor of the Academy of American Poets in 2019. On this occasion, Academy Chancellor Marilyn Chin says Harjo “is an iconic and beloved multi-genre artist. Her poetry, prose, and music have delighted, informed, and tantalized an international audience for over four decades. Her poetry displays a strong commitment to her social and political ideals as she fights tirelessly for Native American justice, ending violence against women, and a variety of important issues. Her masterful spiritual grace always shines through with compassion and forgiveness. Her poetry is a timeless gift to the world.”
Harjo is Professor of English and American Indian studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
I have matched this image by @kay_arm_strong entitled ‘BREAK FREE’, with this poem.
If you would like to be featured in our Saturday Poetry section, please ensure you include the hashtag #theappwhisperer to any images posted to Instagram. This will mean we will be able to consider it.
To view the others we have published in this section, go here.
‘Once the World was Perfect’ ©Joy Harjo
Once the world was perfect, and we were happy in that world.
Then we took it for granted.
Discontent began a small rumble in the earthly mind.
Then Doubt pushed through with its spiked head.
And once Doubt ruptured the web,
All manner of demon thoughts
We destroyed the world we had been given
For inspiration, for life—
Each stone of jealousy, each stone
Of fear, greed, envy, and hatred, put out the light.
No one was without a stone in his or her hand.
There we were,
Right back where we had started.
We were bumping into each other
In the dark.
And now we had no place to live, since we didn’t know
How to live with each other.
Then one of the stumbling ones took pity on another
And shared a blanket.
A spark of kindness made a light.
The light made an opening in the darkness.
Everyone worked together to make a ladder.
A Wind Clan person climbed out first into the next world,
And then the other clans, the children of those clans, their children,
And their children, all the way through time—
To now, into this morning light to you.
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