• Elizabeth Harvey

Poet Warrior: A Memoir by Joy Harjo



This mini-review is not of a self-help or personal development book, but a memoir. This weekend I had the chance to read Poet Warrior by Joy Harjo, the first Indigenous U.S. poet laureate. What a gift this book is. Harjo, a member of the Muscogee (Creek) Nation, is foremost a healer. Her beautiful sharing of her life narrative in a mix of poetry and prose moves through painful personal and historical wounds while also providing the generous balm of her unique gifts and the lessons of hard passages. This book is a coming-of-age map enriched with checkpoints of what it means to relate in kinship with a larger web of life including plants, animals, fellow humans, and ancestors. As a dreamer, I particularly appreciated Harjo’s sharing of the subtleties of how she hears from and relates to the living world around her both in waking life and in dreams. For me, a descendant of European settlers, this book is an ongoing education, heart-rending and humbling as it always is to receive hard and important first-person accounts and Indigenous peoples’ histories of the experiences and legacy of genocide, removal from sacred lands, and ongoing discrimination. Harjo touches on some of her time and experiences in New Mexico and I value the chance to see people, places, and institutions here through her lens. As someone who incorporates narrative therapy in my counseling practice, I tend to read with an eye for what storytelling can mean for healing. Harjo describes inviting her cousin who was struggling with heavy burdens of the past to write out her stories and mail them to her, with Harjo promising not to read those that needed to stay private. The meaning she made of this stayed with me: “We are all here to serve each other. At some point we have to understand that we do not need to carry a story that is unbearable. We can observe the story, which is mental; feel the story, which is physical; let the story go, which is emotional; then forgive the story, which is spiritual, after which we use the materials of it to build a house of knowledge.” Several times as I read this book, I found myself exhaling deeply as a restless and lonely part of my being settled. I’m grateful to Joy Harjo for sharing her gifts of wisdom and healing in this beautiful and touching work. If it was the right fit for a client, I think this book could be excellent for bibliotherapy (incorporating books and other forms of literature in therapy).