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New Orleans by Joy Harjo (Notes)

 Background: Following violent resistance to the encroachment of white settlers by some Creeks, President Andrew
Jackson began a process of government-sponsored removal of Creek people that continued until 1837. Many Creeks
were taken by ship to New Orleans and then overland to Oklahoma. On their way west, the Creeks endured heavy rain
and extreme cold. Other Creeks boarded ships in New Orleans and were taken up the Mississippi River. On this
journey, one steamboat was stuck by another ship, and approximately 300 Creeks died. Between 1827 and the end of
the removal in 1837, more than 23,000 Creeks emigrated from the Southeast.
 When poets write about historical events, they do not usually narrate the events as a historian would; instead, they
allude, or refer briefly, to events to evoke images, ideas, and feelings. In “New Orleans,” Harjo refers to a few different
historical events that are closely related to the themes that she is developing in her poem. (Repeated words and ideas
are a clue to theme.)
 An image is a word or phrase that appeals to one or more of the reader’s senses. Images bring poems to life by
evoking certain thoughts and feelings in the reader. Poets choose images carefully in order to reinforce their themes.
 Blue horse  creates the effect of emphasizing the frozen nature of the statue
 Red rocks  creates the effect of making the blood-red rocks seem alive
 This poem places short, apparently unrelated sentences next to each other. By using this technique, the poet hopes to
lead the reader to make inferences about how the sentences relate to one another.
 DeSoto represents the madness of greed. Images that reveal the most about the speaker’s feelings toward DeSoto are
the images of his wanting to dance on shining streets of beaten gold (lines 40-41) and his drinking and dancing on
Bourbon Street (lines 68-72).
 While all figurative language compares two things, sometimes the comparison is implied rather than explicit. This kind of
implied comparison is called a metaphor.
 Figurative language that explicitly compares two things using the words like or as is a simile. Sometimes similes are
used just to help readers visualize what the poet is describing, and sometimes they are used to convey a message.
 New Orleans is an example of free verse, or poetry with no set patterns of rhythm and rhyme. When read aloud, free
verse sounds more like everyday speech than a conventional poem. However, like other forms of poetry, free verse
uses literary devices such as imagery and figurative language to communicate the author’s meaning.
Imagery is the use of words and phrases that appeal to Figurative language conveys meaning beyond the
the readers five senses-sight, hearing, touch, taste, and literal meanings of words. It often makes a comparison
smell. A writer uses imagery to help readers experience between two things that seem completely unlike each
places and events in a vivid sensory way. For example, other. A metaphor is a kind of figurative language that
the speaker describes “a blue horse / caught frozen in compares two things without using like or as. For
stone.” Readers can virtually see this blue stone statue example, the speaker refers to “blood, a delta in the
and feel its immobility. This image creates a feeling of skin.” This metaphor compares the flow of blood
sadness, since a living animal seems to be trapped in through a person’s veins to a river’s water, constantly
the stone. on the move.


“tobacco brown bones” image Appeals to the sense of sight; tobacco
suggests earth; bones are browned with age
“Blood is the undercurrent.” figurative language (metaphor) The blood of the speaker’s ancestors has
been spilled in the river.
“voices buried in the Mississippi image Appeals to sense of hearing and sight;
mud” suggests that people have been silenced
New Orleans by Joy Harjo (Notes)
 A theme is a central idea about life of human nature that a writer wanted to communicate to readers. Themes are
usually not stated explicitly but must be inferred from clues in the text. Clues to a theme can be found in a text’s images,
figurative language, and historical and cultural contexts. To determine the themes in “New Orleans,” pay attention to
ideas that the poet develops over the course of the poem and how they build on one another.

“Brought in by the Spanish on / an endless ocean voyage he
became mad / and crazy” Chasing shallow,
“DeSoto… / mad and crazy / dancing with a woman as gold / impossible dreams cannot
as the river bottom.” bring happiness and may
“”That’s not what DeSoto thought he wanted to see. / The even lead to madness.
Creeks knew it, and drowned him in / the Mississippi River /
so he wouldn’t have to drown himself.”

 To create particular effects, poets may arrange their words on the page in a variety of ways. These word arrangements,
or syntactical elements, may affect the sound of the poem, reinforce the poet’s meaning, or do both at the same time.


PARALLELISM is the use of similar grammatical “I look for evidence / of other Creeks, for remnants of voices, /
structures to express ideas that are related or or for tobacco brown bones…” (lines 1-3)
PARATAXIS is the placement of short sentences “Nearby is a shop with ivory and knives. / There are red rocks.
next to each other without showing how that are The man behind the / counter has no idea that he is in inside /
related. The sentences lack subordinating magic stones.” (lines 14-17)
conjunctions or transitions, so readers must infer
how they are connected.
ELLIPSIS occurs when a word or phrase that is “Maybe his body is what I am looking for / as evidence. To
needed to form a complete grammatical structure know in another way / that my memory is alive.” (lines 58-60)
is omitted. In first the example, the second
sentence lacks a subject and verb. Readers might
fill in “Maybe I want” at the beginning of the
second sentence to complete the thought.

 Poetry, for the most part, follows basic rules of grammar and style. However, it is a condensed form of expressions that
demands an investment from readers. To create a meaningful whole, readers must connect images and ideas and fill in
missing details. Through the use of parataxis and ellipsis, Harjo involves readers in her poem, enriching their poetic