Last Updated on October 28, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496
In her memoir, Crazy Brave, US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo lends the same stylized, lyrical free verse sensibilities found in her poetry to her prose. Reading both Harjo's poetry and prose is a testament to a primary motif she explores in Crazy Brave—the belief that "Every soul has a distinct song." As Harjo describes it,
Though I was reluctant to be born, I was attracted by the music. I had plans. I was entrusted with carrying voices, songs, and stories to grow and release into the world.
This motif of song surfaces in the stylistic, historical, and thematic layers present within the text.
Stylistically, Harjo utilizes poetic elements to elevate her prose beyond declarative sentences and to provide more metrical structure. She balances short, ethereal, and intimate statements about herself with more complex, sprawling descriptions of her family, which creates alternating rhythms within the text. The alternating rhythms that punctuate Harjo's lyrical style are also well-served by her use of diction that continuously connects her life to the songs she has felt creating, shaping, and changing her as a human being. Often, Harjo reflects and comments on the "rhapsody," "melody," and "rhythm" of her life while weaving the same elements through the prose itself. From the smallest units of each sentence to the full impact of a crafted paragraph, Harjo seeks to share not only the song of her soul but that of her ancestors as well.
Many of the voices, songs, and stories that Harjo carries with her were first sung by her ancestors, who walked the Trail of Tears and continue to occupy the spiritual realm. As a Native woman of Muscogee (Creek) and Cherokee descent, Harjo proudly shares the spiritual history of her ancestors while also lamenting the cultural atrocities they suffered. In her references to both soul and song, Harjo calls upon a spiritual tradition that celebrates communication beyond the bounds of death and a concept of memory that allows one to remember even the experience of birth. It is important to understand how deeply Native spiritual traditions impact Harjo's life and work, because they are a source of strength for her when listening to and living the more painful song of her people—who were forced to abandon their homes, forsake their way of life, and travel the Trail of Tears to new, undesirable territory in what would later become Oklahoma.
Ultimately, all of these stylistic elements and historical references that invoke song help to emphasize how essential song is in Harjo's life and work. Her memoir ultimately connects the songs of people and places, the contemporary and spirit worlds, and the past and present in order to elucidate how she learned to share the song within her soul as a poet. As Harjo puts it, though she was "reluctant to be born," the song of her mother called her forth into this life. And once she arrived, she was ready to discover what songs she might sing and share.