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Critical Overview

(Poetry for Students)

Harjo’s poetry has been warmly received by both scholars and general readers alike. Most praise her ability to convey rich traditions of Native American culture and history—the horrible alongside the beautiful—in such honest, yet elegant, language. Her themes of nature, of interconnectedness, and of movement may not be considered original, but how she deals with them in poetic form is always admirable. In the introduction to Harjo’s collection of interviews called The Spiral of Memory, fellow Native American poet Laura Coltelli writes that in Harjo’s poetry

the sense of the perennial movement from one place to the other . . . is not the senseless wandering of the uprooted, but instead traces an itinerary that bears a deep identification with the land, a geography of the remembered earth.

In her brief biography of the poet simply titled Joy Harjo, Rhonda Pettit describes Harjo’s frequent and well-done use of mysticism in some of her poems: “Characteristics of Native American spirituality and orature feed this mysticism— boundaries between the physical and spiritual world dissolve; animate and inanimate objects are interconnected and sacred; time ceases to be linear.” Although this comment was published two years before Harjo’s book containing “Anniversary,” it is easy to see how well Pettit’s description applies to this poem as well.

Further testament to Harjo’s acceptance into both Native American and mainstream literary circles is the number of awards and honors she has received over the past twenty-five years. Appropriately, just over twenty-five, including an Academy of American Poetry Award and a first-place poetry award from the University of New Mexico, both in 1976; an American Indian Distinguished Achievement Award in 1990; an American Book Award in 1991; and a presidential appointment to the National Council on the Arts in 1998.