My House is the Red Earth by Joy Harjo

My House is the Red Earth by Joy Harjo explores what the ‘centre of the world’ is for different people. The people displays the fact that what is important to one person may be completely unimpressive to another, with the central idea of the poem being that people decide what is important to them, not anyone else deciding for them.

My House is Red Earth by Joy Harjo

 

Summary

My House is the Red Earth by Joy Harjo describes her ‘house’, a little red house that many can miss when driving by. Although she has often heard places such as ‘New York’ being called the centre of the world, for her it is her house. The same applies to different characters explored within the poem, finding different locations that they love and call home. The poem finishes by applying these ideas on to animals, with the ‘crow’ finding its home in food and the sky.

You can read the full poem here at Poetry Foundation.

 

Structure

My House is the Red Earth by Joy Harjo is written in free verse. This does not look like a traditional poem, containing 7 lines, no stanzas and no spacing that is often presented in poetry. Instead, Harjo writes sentence after sentence, a free verse poem that looks more like a paragraph in a novel rather than anything else.

The use of this free verse structure reflects the individualism about which Harjo is writing. If everyone has a different concept of ‘home’, and the ‘centre of the world’, why should poetic form be any different. Indeed, the freedom of the form is reflecting the personal freedom to decide what is one’s home, and what is important to them.

 

Poetic Techniques

One poetic technique that Harjo is using is the reliance on pronouns. As we begin the poem, we are faced with ‘my’, instantly alerting the reader that this first section of the poem is going to deal with what constitutes ‘home’ for the poet. This changes as the poem progresses, with ‘you’ suggested that all of humanity can choose their own, different, home. The same is applied to the ‘crow’, even animals creating and selecting what is important to them.

Another technique is varying short and long sentences. This changing structure throughout the poem allows the poem to feel more like a paragraph in a novel. In doing this, Harjo strips away some of the pretentious notions of poetry, exposing the reader to a poem which rejects all classic forms of poetry. Harjo suggests that what different people enjoy and like is completely up to them, the poetic structure of the piece being a microcosm of this idea.

 

My House is the Red Earth Analysis

Lines 1-2

My House is the Red Earth begins with the pronoun ‘my’, Harjo decreeing that her ’house’ is ‘the red earth’. For the poet, this patch of land is the ‘centre of the world’, implying that she finds this place the most important of all. The possessive nature of ‘my house’ further compounds its importance, with Harjo pointing out what is special to her.

She uses an oxymoron when describing her the place she makes her home, ‘magnificently humble’. The juxtaposing phrase reveals the strange paradox of the poem. Although for Harjo, this place of ‘red earth’ is home, indeed the ‘centre of the world’, for others this isn’t true at all. The balance of personal and general opinions clash within this statement, with Harjo revealing that personal opinions are more important. One must be true to themselves, finding their own home on earth. While others may ‘drive by and miss it’, this place is where Harjo has chosen to live, the most important, and therefore central, part of her world.

Following this, Harjo reveals that of course others may not agree with her. She knows that some people think ‘New York, Paris or Tokyo’ are the ‘centre of the world’, these being huge cities of culture in which a massive amount of people live.

The double repetition of ‘centre of the world’ demonstrates how different people can find places that are important to them in different ways. While others may not care about Harjo’s centre, she likewise will not care about theirs. Therefore, this repetition suggests the multiplicity of ‘centre’ in the poem, the concept being individual and therefore changing based on person.

 

Line 3

This line forms a bridge between two segments of My House is the Red Earth. The first two lines explain the concept, the third describes more about Harjo’s ‘centre’, with the final lines focusing on the perspective of a ‘crow’.

Harjo continues describing what constitutes as the ‘centre’ of her ‘world. It is tiny and seemingly insubstantial to others, ‘radio waves can obscure it’. Moreover, it cannot be pinned down by words, ‘cannot construct it’. Indeed, Harjo is again implying that while others may not see the beauty of her ‘centre’, not thinking it is interesting or perhaps not finding it at all, she loves it beyond words, falling in love with the magic of the land known only to her.

 

Lines 4-7

These lines focus on ‘that fool crow’, what it sees and what it believes is the centre of its world. For the crow, the ‘centre of the world’ is not a fixed place, but rather each meal, ‘greasy strips of fat’. Harjo is suggesting that people establish the centre of their world as whatever means the most to them. In this case, it is food, ‘fat’, that the ‘crow’ can consume.

Harjo states that while things may alter, with different groups existing on earth with their ‘fierce belief’, the crow continues with their life, moving from meal to meal in bliss. While emotions, ‘heartbreak and laughter’, come and go, there will always be the centre of your world, somewhere to go back to and survive happily. Harjo implies not to get caught up in the politics of the world, change being something that always comes back around. Life goes on, find your centre.

The final image of My House is the Red Earth is incredibly positive, the ‘blue bowl of the sky’ representing endless possibility and opens. Harjo is suggesting that for everyone reading the poem there is hope to find what, who, or where, makes you happy, find your ‘centre’ and flourish. The final word of the poem, ‘laughs’ summarises her thoughts on the matter. Things may change, but it doesn’t matter, continue forward, and do so laughing.

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