Cover image for How we became human : new and selected poems
How we became human : new and selected poems
Harjo, Joy.
Personal Author:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Co., [2002]

Physical Description:
xxviii, 242 pages ; 24 cm
General Note:
Includes index.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
PS3558.A62423 H69 2002 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

On Order



This collection gathers poems from throughout Joy Harjo's twenty-eight-year career, beginning in 1973 in the age marked by the takeover at Wounded Knee and the rejuvenation of indigenous cultures in the world through poetry and music. How We Became Human explores its title question in poems of sustaining grace.

Author Notes

Joy Harjo is an internationally known performer and writer of the Mvskoke/Creek Nation, the author of ten books of poetry and, most recently, a memoir, Crazy Brave. A critically acclaimed poet, her many honors include a Guggenheim Fellowship, the Josephine Miles Poetry Award, the William Carlos Williams Award, and the American Indian Distinguished Achievement in the Arts Award. She lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

A quarter-century's work demonstrates both the difficulties and release of voicing a culture under siege. Harjo's selections from six previous books from The Last Song (1975) to A Map to the Next World: Poems and Tales (2000), show the remarkable progression of a writer determined to reconnect with her past and make sense of her present, drawing together the brutalities of contemporary reservation life with the beauty and sensibility of Native American culture and mythology: "But I imagined her like this, not a stained red dress with tape on her heels but the deer who entered our dream in white dawn, breathed mist into pine trees, her fawn a blessing of meat, the ancestors who never left." At times, the juxtaposition of the two carries an almost visceral power of regenerative rhythm, most powerfully in the poems from She Had Some Horses: "She had horses who liked Creek Stomp Dance songs. She had horses who cried in their beer. She had horses who spit at male queens who made them afraid of themselves. She had horses who said they weren't afraid. She had horses who lied. She had horses who told the truth, who were stripped bare of their tongues." Such moments have a decided a political piquancy. Harjo, who belongs to the Muscogee Nation, includes a long introduction, as well as extensive notes on the origins of and elements in each poem, and contends that poetry is not only a way to save the sanity of those who have been oppressed to the point of madness, but that it is a tool to rebuild communities and, ultimately, change the world: "All acts of kindness are lights in the war for justice." Alive with compassion, pain and love, this book is unquestionably an act of kindness. (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Harjo's new collection gathers work from her now hard-to-find early chapbooks, The Last Song and What Moon Drove Me to This?, as well as four later collections. Thirteen new poems are included, in addition to excerpts from Secrets from the Center of the World (a collaborative effort with astronomer and photographer Stephen Strom). In her introduction, Harjo, who is a member of the Muscogee Nation, describes growing up in a family of strong women artists and singers. Expecting to be a visual artist, she was a student at the University of New Mexico when "poetry approached me...and tapped me on the shoulder." Her critically praised work has taken her all over the world. Defining the poet's role as a "journey for truth, for justice," she explores the role of the artist in society, the quest for love, the links among the arts, what constitutes family, and what it means to be human. Using the chant/myth/storytelling forms of her ancestors, she draws the reader into the awareness that "one people is related to another." This compassionate, provocative collection of poetry is highly recommended for both public and academic libraries. Pam Kingsbury, Florence, AL (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.