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|Advice For Countries, Advanced,
Developing and Falling
A Call and Response
by Joy Harjo
Poet Laureate of the United States
A country is a person.
A country is a noun, to be bought and sold. I have a deed.
The ruler's disposition and rules determine the state of being
for all constituents.
Each state governs itself without respect for individuals. It's
everyone for themselves.
Power is dangerous when wielded in the hands of one. It is
meant to be shared.
I was given this position by cunning, by money, by sex, by
family, by God. It belongs to me and no one else.
We cannot own anyone else, people, the lands, or resources.
We are here to care for each other.
We are right. We build walls to keep anyone who is not like
us out of here. God gave us these lands. We separate
children and cage them because they are breaking our
Every increment of any thought, action, or deed matters, has
consequences in all directions.
Not if you can make a law. Not if it passes the Supreme
Court. Not if we can pay for it.
There will be no balance without all voices present in the
You will never earn your way here. You are the wrong sex,
wrong color of skin, wrong sexual orientation, not my
religion, not my language.
We are making our grandchildren's world with our words. We
perceive a world in which everyone sits at the table
together, with enough for everyone.
"We will make this country great again."
SOURCE: An American Sunrise: Poems by Joy Harjo, W.W.
Norton & Company, New York, USA, 2019.
JOY HARJO, born in 1951 in
Tulsa, Oklahoma, is a poet,
musician, playwright, and
author of the Muscogee
(Creek) Nation. In June 2019,
she was the first Native
American to be named United
States Poet Laureate.
After attending high school at
the Institute of American
Indian Arts, Harjo earned her
BA at the University of New
Mexico in 1976. She
completed her MFA at the
University of Iowa Writers'
Workshop in 1978.
She has taught English,
Creative Writing, and
American Indian Studies at
the University of California-Los
Angeles, University of New
Mexico, University of Arizona,
Arizona State University,
University of Illinois, University
of Colorado, University of
Hawai'i, Institute of American
Indian Arts, and University of
Harjo is a chancellor of the
Academy of American Poets
and is a founding board
member of the Native Arts and
Cultures Foundation. She lives
in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Harjo's books of poetry include:
~ An American Sunrise (2019);
~ Conflict Resolution for Holy
~ How We Became Human:
New and Selected Poems
~ A Map to the Next World
~ The Woman Who Fell From
the Sky (1994);
~ In Mad Love and War (1990);
~ Secrets from the Center of
the World (1989);
~ She Had Some Horses
~ What Moon Drove Me to
As a critically-acclaimed poet,
Harjo has received several
honors and awards. These
~ United States Poet Laureate
~ Ruth Lilly Prize for Lifetime
Achievement from the Poetry
~ Wallace Stevens Award from
the Academy of American
~ American Indian
Distinguished Achievement in
the Arts Award;
~ Lifetime Achievement Award
from the Native Writers' Circle
of Americas (1995).
Poetry is the art that is closest to music, standing between
music and narrative orality (which can be speechmaking,
sermon or theater). Poetry is the voice of what can’t be
spoken, the mode of truth-telling when meaning needs to
rise above or skim below everyday language in shapes not
discernible by the ordinary mind. It trumps the rhetoric of
politicians. Poetry is prophetic by nature and not bound by
time. Because of these qualities poetry carries grief,
heartache, ecstasy, celebration, despair, or searing truth
more directly than any other literary art form. It is
ceremonial in nature. Poetry is a tool for disruption and
creation and is necessary for generations of humans to
know who they are and who they are becoming in the wave
map of history. Without poetry, we lose our way.
~ JOY HARJO, IN INTERVIEW WITH AMERICAN POETS JOURNAL,
SPRING-SUMMER 2019 ISSUE.
[Poetry is] about learning to listen, much like in music. You
can train your ears to history. You can train your ears to
the earth. You can train your ears to the wind. It’s
important to listen and then to study the world, like
astronomy or geology or the names of birds. A lot of poets
can be semi-historians. Poetry is very mathematical.
There’s a lot in the theoretical parts that is similar.
Quantum physicists remind me of mystics. They are aware
of what happens in timelessness, though they speak of it
through theories and equations.
Audiences for poetry are growing because of the turmoil in
our country–political shifts, climate shifts. When there’s
uncertainty, when you’re looking for meaning beyond this
world–that takes people to poetry. We need something to
counter the hate speech, the divisiveness, and it’s possible
~ JOY HARJO, IN INTERVIEW WITH TIME MAGAZINE, SEPTEMBER 2,
OF THE UNITED STATES
W.W. NORTON & COMPANY