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American Passages: A Literary SurveyUnit IndexAmerican Passages Home
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5. Masculine Heroes   

15. Poetry of Liberation

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Activities: Author Activities

Joy Harjo - Author Questions

Back Back to Joy Harjo Activities
  1. Comprehension: Poets often use repetition for emphasis and to create a pattern when writing in free verse. Often the repetition is slightly different in each rendition, making the reader think about the subtle shades of meaning in language. In "Call It Fear" Harjo repeats phrases like "walk backwards," "talk backwards," "breathe backwards." What does she mean here? What is the significance of these repeated images? What is the "edge" to which she keeps referring?

  2. Comprehension: Animals in poetry are often representative of a wilderness damaged or forgotten in the chaos of the modern world. What is the significance of the white bear in "White Bear"? What is the tone of this poem? What is the role of nature?

  3. Comprehension: "Summer Night" is filled with beautiful, delicate imagery. What is the effect of the line breaks on the page? How does the visual pattern of the poem affect its meaning?

  4. Context: In The Woman Who Fell from the Sky, Harjo relates Native American myth to contemporary life. How does her use of myth compare to that of the feminist poets in this unit, particularly Adrienne Rich ("Snapshots of a Daughter-in-Law") and Sylvia Plath ("Ariel")?

  5. Context: Memory is an important theme in Harjo's work. Assimilation and the ever-decreasing number of people who can speak tribal languages threaten the preservation of the cultures of Native Americans, who have traditionally relied on oral tradition to transmit their heritage. Thus, it is not surprising that memory is so central to Harjo's work. How does she represent memory, both personal and collective? You might look at "The Flood" and "White Bear."

  6. Exploration: The relationships and understanding among different generations of women are central to many women poets. This seems particularly true of writers in the women's movement. How do these poets represent the differences among generations of women? In what ways is the tone of their poems political? Consider poems by Lorde, Harjo, and Rich in your answer.

  7. Exploration: Many of Harjo's poems bear the influence of jazz, using call and response, repetition, and visual patterns in a way reminiscent of that genre. Compare Harjo's "Summer Night" to Langston Hughes's "The Weary Blues," also influenced by jazz. What similarities or differences in technique do you notice?

  8. Exploration: Travel is an important theme in Harjo's work. How does this theme relate to the experiences of Native Americans, both in terms of a connection to the land and with regard to Native American spiritual images that often involve flight and journey? How does recent Native American history, particularly forced removal to Oklahoma, relate to these images of travel in Harjo's poetry? How does she use this theme to bring closure to the past?

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