Poetry & Listening with Joy Harjo


Do you ever rely on your intuition when you’re at a crossroads? Today’s guest has trusted in this power for most of her life, and it’s led her to where she is today. Joy Harjo is a poet, musician, and author, and an inspiring female figure among Native American artists and the broader poetry community.

Joy hit a major crossroads while taking her pre-med courses, where she had to decide whether to follow the more conventional path or commit herself to what she truly felt connected to. You’ll love her profound insights on the importance of listening and following your “inner knowing”, along with her tips for self-renewal and honoring your creative side.

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Highlighted Excerpt:

Majo: What I’m hearing is that you’re at a crossroads, like, Okay I can continue on this path of science, or I can follow what I’m feeling connected to, which is poetry and writing.

I feel that a lot of our listeners have been at a similar crossroads. How did you find the courage to follow poetry?

Joy: (laughs) It’s true, it did take courage. I mean, can you imagine? Even one of my students now recently said something to me about how his father told him, “Don’t call yourself a poet, say you’re a writer because that sounds better.” You know?

And certainly, in some ways it doesn’t make sense. Especially for a lot of native people, where we have to deal with a lot of economic stuff, so to go to school means you go to learn a craft, something in science or education... so that you can have a so-called “real” impact and a “real” income and a real path for helping your people and also for making a living. And poetry doesn’t traditionally fall into that category.

So moving from pre-med where there’s a lot of respect in that, to being an artist… feeling like the poetry is taking over and it’s what I’m supposed to do even though it’s not what I had expected at all in my life… and yet to know beyond knowing that this is the path I’m supposed to take. It surprised me!

But you can imagine the responses of people who cared about me, who took me aside and said, You need to focus on something more real... you have children... But I knew that I would be okay. It was that “knowing”. Somehow I knew it was what I was supposed to do and as a result, I also knew I would find my way.

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Show Notes:

  • What Joy was like as a little girl, how she coped with the unique challenges within her family, and the important relationship she built with her ancestors. [2:20]

  • After music was literally taken away from her, the chance to attend an American Indian art school “saved her life”. [8:54]

  • On the challenges Joy faced as a young wife and mother, and her process of building a better life for herself. [12:30]

  • How she reconnected with art and started writing while attending medical school. [15:53]

  • “I know beyond knowing that this is the path I’m supposed to take.” How Joy found the courage to follow poetry. [21:06]

  • On connecting to your intuition (or “the knowing”), listening to the voices of your ancestors and your own spirit, and resisting the conventional path. [24:04]

  • How Joy stays fluid while creating/performing across a range of artistic mediums. [29:30]

  • Joy’s tips for paying attention to your creative impulses and making time for them. [32:50]

  • Joy shares about the importance of learning to listen, changing your beliefs to open up what’s possible, and picking up the saxophone at forty. [36:38]

  • “Perhaps the world ends here.” Joy closes by reading one of her gorgeous poems. [40:29]

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Learn more about Joy & her work


by Carolyn Pennypacker Riggs

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