Joy Harjo's Poetics of Transformation

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For Muscogee Creek poet Joy Harjo, poetry is a real world force that can empower the reader by utilizing mythic memory, recovery of history, and a spiral journey to regain communal identity. Her poetic career transforms from early lyric poems to a hybridized form of prosody, prose, and myth to accommodate and to reflect Harjo's concerns as they progress from personal, to tribal, and then to global. She often employs a witnessing strategy to combat the trauma caused by racism in order to create the possibility for renewal and healing. Furthermore, Harjo's poetry combats forces that seek to define Native ... continued below

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Rose-Vails, Shannon December 2003.

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  • Rose-Vails, Shannon

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For Muscogee Creek poet Joy Harjo, poetry is a real world force that can empower the reader by utilizing mythic memory, recovery of history, and a spiral journey to regain communal identity. Her poetic career transforms from early lyric poems to a hybridized form of prosody, prose, and myth to accommodate and to reflect Harjo's concerns as they progress from personal, to tribal, and then to global. She often employs a witnessing strategy to combat the trauma caused by racism in order to create the possibility for renewal and healing. Furthermore, Harjo's poetry combats forces that seek to define Native American existence negatively. To date, Harjo's poetic works create a myth that will refocus humanity's attention on the way in which historical meaning is produced and the way difference is encountered. In an effort to revise the dominant stories told about Indians, Harjo privileges the idea that Native Americans are present and human, and it is this sense of humanity that pervades her poetry. Sequentially, Joy Harjo's volumes of poetry-She Had Some Horses (1983), In Mad Love and War (1990), and The Woman Who Fell from the Sky (1994)-create a regenerative cycle that combats the effects of oppressive history and racism. Through her poetry, violent and tragic events are transformed into moments of hope and renewal. Her collections are powerful testimonies of endurance and survival. They directly defy the stereotype of the "vanishing" or "stoic" Indian, but more importantly, they offer regeneration and grace to all peoples. The poems create a map to help navigate the multiple simultaneous realms of existence, to find a way to travel through the barriers that separate existence. In this dissertation, I employ various reading strategies to support my contentions. Blending a postcolonial standpoint with feminism, I believe Harjo uses a feminist ethnic bildungsroman to explain how a woman of color achieves maturation of self-identity given the many layers of restrictions that act to muffle her voice. Utilizing mediational theory, I study the way in which Harjo's poetry addresses multiple audiences in an attempt to achieve renewal. Furthermore, I posit that Harjo questions the validity of history, and through her retelling of the historical narrative, she impacts the collective consciousness of a nation in an attempt to combat the ill effects of historical trauma. Finally, Joseph Campbell's ideas about the sustaining power of myth, an idea shared by many Native Americans, shapes my arguments regarding Harjo's use of myth as a source of renewal and strength.

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  • December 2003

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  • Feb. 15, 2008, 3:10 p.m.

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  • Jan. 21, 2014, 2:37 p.m.

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Rose-Vails, Shannon. Joy Harjo's Poetics of Transformation, dissertation, December 2003; Denton, Texas. (digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc4358/: accessed November 18, 2017), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, digital.library.unt.edu; .