Skip to content
Home » Exploring Humanity Through Poetry: Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ (2002)

Exploring Humanity Through Poetry: Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ (2002)

Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” (2002) is a collection of poems that explore the complexities of human existence, delving into themes of identity, history, spirituality, and the natural world. Through her lyrical and evocative language, Harjo invites readers to reflect on their own experiences and connect with the shared humanity that binds us all. In this article, we will explore the themes and techniques used in “How We Became Human” and how they contribute to a deeper understanding of what it means to be human.

Background of Joy Harjo

Joy Harjo is a renowned poet, musician, and author of the Muscogee Creek Nation. Born in Tulsa, Oklahoma in 1951, Harjo grew up in a family that valued storytelling and music. She began writing poetry as a young girl and went on to study at the University of New Mexico and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. Harjo’s work often explores themes of identity, spirituality, and the natural world, drawing on her own experiences as a Native American woman. In addition to her poetry, Harjo has also released several albums of music and written several books, including memoirs and children’s books. She has received numerous awards for her work, including the Wallace Stevens Award from the Academy of American Poets and the Ruth Lilly Poetry Prize. Today, Harjo serves as the United States Poet Laureate, the first Native American to hold the position.

The Significance of ‘How We Became Human’

Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” is a powerful collection of poems that explores the complexities of human existence. Through her words, Harjo delves into the depths of human emotion, examining the ways in which we connect with one another and with the world around us. The significance of this collection lies in its ability to capture the essence of what it means to be human, to experience joy and pain, love and loss, and to navigate the complexities of our shared existence. Harjo’s poetry is a testament to the power of language to illuminate the human experience and to connect us all in our shared humanity.

The Themes of ‘How We Became Human’

The themes of Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” are vast and complex, touching on everything from the nature of identity to the role of storytelling in shaping our understanding of the world. One of the most prominent themes in the collection is the idea of connection, both to other people and to the natural world. Harjo explores the ways in which we are all interconnected, and how our actions and choices can have far-reaching consequences for those around us. Another key theme is the importance of memory and history, and the ways in which our past experiences shape who we are and how we see the world. Throughout the collection, Harjo also grapples with questions of spirituality and the search for meaning in a world that can often seem chaotic and uncertain. Ultimately, “How We Became Human” is a powerful exploration of what it means to be human, and the many different factors that contribute to our sense of self and our place in the world.

The Role of Nature in the Collection

Nature plays a significant role in Joy Harjo’s collection of poems, “How We Became Human.” Throughout the book, Harjo uses nature as a metaphor for human experiences and emotions. For example, in the poem “Deer Dancer,” Harjo writes about a deer who dances in the forest, symbolizing the connection between humans and nature. In “The Flood,” Harjo describes a flood that destroys everything in its path, representing the destructive power of human emotions. Overall, Harjo’s use of nature in her poetry highlights the interconnectedness of all living things and the importance of respecting and preserving the natural world.

The Importance of Ancestry and Heritage

Ancestry and heritage are crucial components of our identity and understanding of ourselves. They provide us with a sense of belonging and connection to our past, present, and future. In Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human,” she explores the importance of ancestry and heritage through her poetry. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, draws on her Native American heritage to create a powerful and moving collection of poems that speak to the human experience. Through her work, she reminds us of the importance of honoring our ancestors and preserving our cultural heritage. By doing so, we can better understand ourselves and our place in the world. Harjo’s poetry serves as a reminder that our ancestry and heritage are not just a part of our past, but also a vital part of our present and future.

The Exploration of Trauma and Healing

Joy Harjo’s collection of poems, “How We Became Human” (2002), delves into the exploration of trauma and healing. Through her words, Harjo explores the experiences of Native Americans and their struggles with colonization, displacement, and loss. She also touches on the universal experiences of love, family, and spirituality.

One of the most powerful poems in the collection is “Grace,” which speaks to the trauma of sexual abuse and the healing process that follows. Harjo writes, “I will not forget you, / I have carved you on the palm of my hand.” This line speaks to the idea that trauma is not something that can be easily forgotten, but rather something that becomes a part of us. However, Harjo also offers a message of hope and healing, as she writes, “I will not forget you, / I have carved you on the palm of my hand / So when I rise / My hand will recognize the scars / And know that I am whole again.”

Through her exploration of trauma and healing, Harjo offers a message of resilience and strength. She shows that even in the face of great adversity, we can find ways to heal and move forward. Her words are a reminder that we are all human, and that we all have the capacity to overcome the challenges that life throws our way.

The Representation of Women in the Collection

Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ (2002) is a collection of poems that explores the complexities of human existence. One of the themes that Harjo touches upon in her work is the representation of women. Throughout the collection, Harjo portrays women as strong, resilient, and capable of overcoming adversity. She also highlights the struggles that women face in a patriarchal society and the importance of female empowerment. Harjo’s poems challenge traditional gender roles and celebrate the diversity of women’s experiences. Overall, the representation of women in ‘How We Became Human’ is a powerful testament to the strength and resilience of women in the face of adversity.

The Use of Mythology and Folklore

Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” (2002) is a collection of poems that explores the human experience through the use of mythology and folklore. Harjo draws on her Native American heritage to create a rich tapestry of stories and symbols that speak to universal themes of love, loss, and identity. By weaving together the personal and the mythic, Harjo invites readers to see themselves as part of a larger, interconnected web of life. Through her poetry, she reminds us that our stories are not just our own, but part of a larger human story that stretches back through time. Whether she is exploring the mysteries of the natural world or the complexities of human relationships, Harjo’s use of mythology and folklore adds depth and resonance to her work, making “How We Became Human” a powerful testament to the enduring power of poetry.

The Influence of Music and Performance

Music and performance have always been integral parts of human culture. They have the power to evoke emotions, tell stories, and bring people together. In Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human,” music and performance play a significant role in exploring the complexities of humanity. Harjo, a renowned Native American poet, draws on her cultural heritage to create a collection of poems that celebrate the power of music and performance to connect people across time and space.

Throughout the book, Harjo weaves together themes of identity, memory, and spirituality, using music and performance as a lens through which to explore these ideas. In “The Woman Hanging from the Thirteenth Floor Window,” for example, she describes a woman who “sings a song of sorrow” as she falls to her death. The song becomes a symbol of the woman’s pain and the collective pain of her community, highlighting the power of music to express and heal emotional wounds.

Similarly, in “The Naming,” Harjo uses a traditional Native American naming ceremony to explore the relationship between identity and language. The ceremony involves singing and drumming, emphasizing the importance of music and performance in cultural traditions. By connecting language and music, Harjo suggests that both are essential to understanding and expressing our identities.

Overall, Harjo’s use of music and performance in “How We Became Human” underscores the importance of these art forms in human culture. They are not just forms of entertainment, but powerful tools for exploring the complexities of our shared humanity.

The Connection Between Poetry and Identity

Poetry has always been a powerful tool for exploring and expressing one’s identity. In Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” (2002), the connection between poetry and identity is particularly strong. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, uses her poetry to explore her own identity as a Native American woman, as well as the identities of her ancestors and her community. Through her words, she paints a vivid picture of the struggles and triumphs of Native Americans throughout history, and the ongoing fight for recognition and respect. Harjo’s poetry is a testament to the power of language and storytelling in shaping our understanding of ourselves and our place in the world.

The Relevance of ‘How We Became Human’ Today

In today’s world, where we are constantly bombarded with news of violence, hatred, and discrimination, Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” serves as a powerful reminder of our shared humanity. Through her poetry, Harjo explores the complexities of human existence, touching upon themes such as identity, memory, and spirituality.

One of the most striking aspects of Harjo’s work is her ability to weave together different cultural traditions and perspectives, creating a tapestry of voices that speaks to the diversity of human experience. Whether she is drawing on Native American mythology or referencing contemporary pop culture, Harjo’s poetry is a celebration of the richness and complexity of our shared cultural heritage.

At the same time, “How We Became Human” is also a deeply personal work, reflecting Harjo’s own experiences as a Native American woman. Through her poetry, she confronts the legacy of colonialism and oppression, while also celebrating the resilience and strength of her people.

Ultimately, “How We Became Human” is a testament to the power of poetry to connect us to one another and to the world around us. In a time when it can be all too easy to feel isolated and disconnected, Harjo’s work reminds us that we are all part of a larger, interconnected whole. By exploring the depths of our shared humanity, she invites us to see the world with new eyes and to embrace the beauty and complexity of our existence.

The Impact of Joy Harjo’s Poetry on Native American Literature

Joy Harjo’s poetry has had a profound impact on Native American literature, both in terms of its content and its style. As a member of the Muscogee Creek Nation, Harjo draws on her own experiences and cultural heritage to create works that are deeply rooted in Native American traditions. At the same time, her poetry is also highly innovative and experimental, pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of form and structure.

One of the key themes that runs through Harjo’s work is the idea of connection – to the land, to other people, and to the natural world. In “How We Became Human,” for example, she explores the ways in which humans are interconnected with the rest of creation, and how this connection is essential to our survival and well-being. This message is particularly important in the context of Native American literature, where the idea of connection to the land and to one’s ancestors is central to many cultural traditions.

Another important aspect of Harjo’s poetry is its use of language. She often incorporates elements of Native American languages into her work, as well as experimenting with English in innovative ways. This creates a unique and powerful voice that is both deeply rooted in tradition and highly contemporary. In doing so, Harjo has helped to redefine what Native American literature can be, and has opened up new possibilities for future generations of writers.

Overall, the impact of Joy Harjo’s poetry on Native American literature cannot be overstated. Through her work, she has helped to bring Native American voices and perspectives to a wider audience, while also pushing the boundaries of what is possible in terms of form and content. As such, she is a true pioneer in the field, and her influence will be felt for many years to come.

The Reception and Criticism of ‘How We Became Human’

Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” has received widespread acclaim since its publication in 2002. The collection of poems explores the complexities of humanity, touching on themes such as identity, spirituality, and the relationship between humans and the natural world. Harjo’s use of language and imagery has been praised for its ability to evoke powerful emotions and paint vivid pictures in the reader’s mind.

However, the collection has also faced criticism from some who argue that Harjo’s focus on Native American experiences and perspectives may limit its appeal to a wider audience. Others have questioned the accuracy of Harjo’s portrayal of certain cultural practices and traditions.

Despite these criticisms, “How We Became Human” remains a powerful and thought-provoking work that continues to resonate with readers of all backgrounds. Its exploration of the human experience through the lens of Native American culture offers a unique and valuable perspective on what it means to be human.

The Use of Language and Imagery in the Collection

Joy Harjo’s collection of poems, “How We Became Human” (2002), is a masterful exploration of the human experience through the use of language and imagery. Harjo’s poetry is rich with vivid descriptions and powerful metaphors that capture the essence of what it means to be human.

One of the most striking aspects of Harjo’s poetry is her use of language. Her words are carefully chosen and arranged to create a sense of rhythm and musicality that draws the reader in. She uses repetition, alliteration, and other poetic devices to create a sense of unity and coherence throughout the collection.

Harjo’s imagery is equally powerful. She uses vivid descriptions of nature, animals, and human emotions to create a sense of connection between the reader and the natural world. Her poems are filled with images of the earth, the sky, and the sea, which serve as a reminder of our place in the world and our connection to all living things.

Overall, Harjo’s use of language and imagery in “How We Became Human” is a testament to the power of poetry to explore the depths of the human experience. Her words and images are a reminder of our shared humanity and the importance of connecting with the natural world.

The Connection Between ‘How We Became Human’ and Harjo’s Other Works

Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ (2002) is a collection of poems that explores the complexities of human existence. The poems in this collection are deeply personal and reflect Harjo’s own experiences as a Native American woman. However, the themes and ideas explored in ‘How We Became Human’ are not limited to this collection alone. In fact, many of the themes and ideas explored in this collection can be found in Harjo’s other works as well.

One of the most prominent themes in ‘How We Became Human’ is the idea of identity. Harjo explores what it means to be human and how our identities are shaped by our experiences and the world around us. This theme is also present in Harjo’s other works, such as ‘She Had Some Horses’ (1983) and ‘In Mad Love and War’ (1990). In these collections, Harjo explores the complexities of identity and how it is shaped by race, gender, and culture.

Another theme that is present in ‘How We Became Human’ and Harjo’s other works is the idea of connection. Harjo explores the connections between humans and the natural world, as well as the connections between individuals and their communities. This theme is also present in Harjo’s ‘Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings’ (2015), where she explores the connections between humans and the divine.

Overall, ‘How We Became Human’ is a powerful collection of poems that explores the complexities of human existence. The themes and ideas explored in this collection are not limited to this work alone, but can be found in Harjo’s other works as well. Through her poetry, Harjo invites readers to explore what it means to be human and to connect with the world around us.

The Role of Poetry in Understanding Humanity

Poetry has always been a powerful tool for understanding humanity. Through the use of language, poets are able to capture the essence of the human experience and convey it in a way that is both beautiful and profound. In Joy Harjo’s collection of poems, “How We Became Human,” she explores the complexities of human existence and the ways in which we navigate the world around us. Harjo’s poetry is a testament to the power of language and its ability to connect us to one another on a deep and meaningful level. Through her words, we are able to see ourselves reflected in the experiences of others, and gain a greater understanding of what it means to be human. Whether we are grappling with love, loss, or the search for meaning in our lives, Harjo’s poetry reminds us that we are not alone in our struggles. Instead, we are part of a larger, interconnected web of humanity, and it is through poetry that we are able to tap into this shared experience and find solace in our common humanity.

The Relationship Between Poetry and Activism

Poetry has always been a powerful tool for activism, as it allows individuals to express their thoughts and emotions in a way that can inspire change. Joy Harjo’s “How We Became Human” is a prime example of how poetry can be used to explore humanity and advocate for social justice. Harjo’s poems touch on a range of issues, from the struggles of Native Americans to the impact of colonialism on indigenous cultures. Through her words, she encourages readers to think critically about the world around them and to take action to create a more just and equitable society. In this way, poetry can be a powerful force for social change, inspiring individuals to come together and work towards a better future for all.

The Legacy of Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’

Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ is a powerful collection of poems that explores the complexities of human existence. Through her words, Harjo delves into the depths of the human experience, touching on themes of love, loss, identity, and spirituality. Her poetry is both deeply personal and universally relatable, speaking to the human condition in a way that is both profound and accessible.

One of the most striking aspects of Harjo’s work is her ability to weave together different strands of human experience into a cohesive whole. Her poems touch on everything from the natural world to the spiritual realm, from the joys of love to the pain of loss. Through it all, she maintains a sense of unity and interconnectedness, reminding us that we are all part of a larger whole.

Another key aspect of Harjo’s legacy is her commitment to using poetry as a tool for social and political change. Throughout her career, she has been a vocal advocate for Native American rights and environmental justice, using her platform as a poet to raise awareness and inspire action. Her work is a testament to the power of art to effect change, and a reminder that poetry can be a force for good in the world.

Overall, the legacy of Joy Harjo’s ‘How We Became Human’ is one of profound insight and inspiration. Her poetry speaks to the heart of what it means to be human, and her commitment to social justice reminds us of the importance of using our voices to make a difference. As we continue to grapple with the complexities of the human experience, Harjo’s work will undoubtedly continue to resonate and inspire for generations to come.