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Joy Harjo MasterClass Review: Poetic Thinking

Check out our honest review of Joy Harjo’s MasterClass and determine whether this online course meets your needs.

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Joy Harjo Teaches Poetic Thinking MasterClass: Our Verdict (2024)


4.4 / 5

Joy Harjo’s MasterClass is focused on the acclaimed poet’s approach to expressing thoughts, feelings, and ideas through words. She talks about imagery and form, inspiration, revising, and other essential parts of the writing process. She also talks about her journey of becoming a poet and shares valuable lessons she learned along the way.


  • Learning from an acclaimed poet
  • Inspiring lessons
  • Interesting ideas
  • Useful resources


  • It's a bit too abstract
  • Lack of versatility

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I didn’t grow up in America, so Joy Harjo’s poems weren’t part of my education or my parents’ library. I was vaguely familiar with her work before taking this class, but the moment I saw the title of her MasterClass, I knew I had to take it.

I wasn’t sure what to expect, though, since ‘poetic thinking’ sounds, well, very poetic. Not so easy to teach, in any case.

So, how much did I actually learn from Joy, and who is the target audience for her course?

In this honest review, I’ll tell you everything you need to know to decide if the course is worth taking.

Table of Contents

What is the Joy Harjo MasterClass?

Joy Harjo Teaches Poetic Thinking” is an online course offered by MasterClass, a popular learning platform known for its team of well-known instructors.

The course is taught by Joy Harjo, an award-winning poet who served as the 23rd United States Poet Laureate. Her poetry is known for being centered around landscape, politics, and remembrance,

With more than 20 years of experience, Harjo surely has a lot to say about poetry, but her MasterClass isn’t a step-by-step writing guide. It’s a depiction of her own concept of poetry, offering tools and inspiration that can help you find your own way of unblocking creativity.

The course contains 10 video lessons with a duration of 2 hours and 3 minutes, and it’s primarily based on one-on-one lessons.

Joy Harjo with her book How We Became Human

Who is Joy Harjo?

Joy Harjo is an American poet, musician, playwright, and author. She grew up in Tulsa, Oklahoma, as a member of the Muscogee Nation, and she became the first Native poet laureate.

Harjo published her first poetry volume, The Last Song, in 1975, and her breakthrough collection, She Had Some Horses, came in 1983. She is now the author of ten books of poetry and three children’s books.

Often using myth, old tales, and autobiography, Harjo draws on First Nation storytelling and histories. Her work is also deeply concerned with politics, tradition, remembrance, and the transformational aspects of poetry.

Harjo has also been called “the poet of myth and the subconscious,” and her soul-based expression extends beyond the written word. In addition to writing poetry, she is a noted teacher, saxophonist, and vocalist.

Who is Joy Harjo’s MasterClass for?

In short, Joy’s class is suitable for anyone who wants to dig deeper into their creativity and gain new perspectives on poetry.

It’s great for young writers who need guidance and for those who are still searching for the right thing to write about. Joy is inspiring and honest, and although she sometimes speaks in a language that belongs to the realm of ‘artistic spirituality,’ her lessons are enjoyable and easy to follow.

That being said, both beginners and experienced poets can take something out of her class.

Of course, it’s a huge advantage to be fond of Joy’s work or similar styles of writing. Every artist has their own approach, and this MasterClass revolves around Joy’s unique viewpoints and style.

To sum things up, here are some of the people who benefit the most from this course:

  • Aspiring poets and writers
  • Seasoned artists 
  • Admirers of Joy Harjo’s work

What does Joy Harjo's MasterClass cover?

In essence, Joy’s course deals with the meaning and impact of poetry. In her lessons, she goes beyond form, style, and rhythm and tries to “go where words cannot go.”

At the end of the day, that’s what poetry is all about. There are no rules; there are no strict guidelines. There’s just the feeling of capturing moments and ideas.

However, it’s not easy to teach a class that isn’t rooted in something tangible, so her discussions did tend to get a bit abstract. Nevertheless, she managed to convey her views on poetry quite effectively.

Also, many of the lessons contain case studies, which makes everything a bit easier to absorb.

To make things clearer, here is what you can expect from each chapter in terms of content:

  • Lesson 1 is an introductory lesson where Joy introduces herself and the course.
  • Lesson 2 is focused on listening as the most essential activity that leads to writing.
  • Lesson 3 deals with accessing knowledge and expressing activism and truth in poetry.
  • Lesson 4 is about unblocking creativity and ways of leaving the thinking mind.
  • Lesson 5 tackles imagery and form.
  • Lesson 6 deals with writing and revising.
  • Lessons 7-8 are focused on honoring our unique memories, identity, and history.
  • Lesson 9 shows how you can use poetry to “map your own soul” and find hope.
  • Lesson 10 is a bonus lesson where Joy, with the help of her musical partner Larry Mitchell, turns a poem into a song.

My favorite parts of Joy Harjo’s MasterClass

I found Joy’s class rather inspiring and refreshing. A kind of class you would expect to get from a poetic soul.

There is something very calming yet strong about Joy, and many of her poems feel the same. They are full of activism and wisdom, yet they capture a sense of spiritual calmness.

Thanks to the top-notch production quality and good structure of the course, Joy’s course managed to deliver that sense of ambiguity and, importantly, provide me with inspiration to dig deeper into my own creativity.

That said, it’s hard to say which part I liked the best, but here are some of the chapters that stood out.

Listening comes before writing

Joy Harjo speaking in her MasterClass
Joy Harjo discussing the interconnected acts of listening and writing

It’s hard to find listening places these days, says Joy. It’s important to embrace silence, nevertheless, and for her, that place can be found in poetry. 

But listening is an important practice for everyone, as it allows you to reset.

In this insightful lesson, she also talked about her poems Everybody Has a Heartache and Frog in a Dry River. She explained how listening and observing in silence had helped her find inspiration for each poem.

Unblocking creativity

Joy Harjo speaking in her MasterClass
Sometimes, you just need to let it go, and it will come to you

Just like many other writers and artists, Joy believes you shouldn’t force anything. It’s okay to take your time, she says, and sometimes you just need to let things go.

However, you need to be active to unblock your creativity. You need to keep exploring, searching for inspiration in other forms of art, and allowing yourself to play.

This lesson also covers ekphrastic writing: poetry about images.

Writing and revising

Joy Harjo speaking in her MasterClass

This is probably the most practical lesson in the course. Joy showed her unofficial notes and tackled the intricacies of her writing process.

She talks about ideas, form, genres, and characters, and she suggests reading aloud as a way of getting a sense of the sound of your poem.

How much does the MasterClass cost?

MasterClass is a subscription-based learning platform, so it’s not possible to purchase courses individually. If you want to take this MasterClass, you have to become a subscriber.

The standard annual plan has been renamed "Plus" and is available at $120 a year (which makes it $10 per month, billed annually), and now provides access to all MasterClass courses on two devices instead of one. The Premium plan, providing access for up to six devices costs $240 per year.

A MasterClass subscription gives you unlimited access to a catalog of 200+ classes, so if you want to take multiple classes throughout the year, the subscription is definitely worth it, and there are pleny of interesting courses on related topics to explore.

Also, the platform offers a 30-day satisfaction guarantee, so if you’re not happy with your learning experience, you can request a full refund.

Note that the "Standard" membership, priced at $72 per year, only gives you access to their short-form learning content – none of their full MasterClasses are included.

What I liked about Joy Harjo’s MasterClass

As I said before, I think Joy’s class is refreshing and inspiring, and for me, that’s often enough to enjoy the course.

However, it’s also important to learn – and whether you would find the course educational and insightful depends on what you’re looking for.

In any case, the course has many advantages, so let’s take a look at some of them.

Learning from an acclaimed poet

First of all, taking lessons from a legendary poet like Joy Harjo was truly a privilege. I’ve never had a chance to listen to her speak, so it was interesting to see the thought process behind her poems.

Moreover, Joy is a good teacher, relaxed and friendly, and her stories and explanations provided me with some new insights that I’ll certainly take into consideration in my own writing.

Inspiring lessons

On top of that, Joy is a very inspiring person, and she lives and breathes poetry.

But as she said at the beginning, poetry is for everyone. This felt very welcoming and encouraging for anyone who wasn’t sure whether they belong in this course.

After all, to become a poet, you just need to start writing. And there’s always a place to start.

Unique content

One thing is for sure – this is not a college-like writing course packed with theory and assignments. It’s very fluid and relaxed, yet it provides a lot to chew on.

Also, there is a bonus lesson where Joy performs a poem with music, and that’s more proof of how unique this MasterClass is.

Useful resources

If you want to learn more, you can download the accompanying Class Guide. It’s informative and well-crafted, and it contains some reading suggestions that can take you one step further.

Drawbacks of Joy Harjo’s MasterClass

Although I generally enjoyed the class, I can’t say it’s one of the best ones I’ve taken so far.

It's a bit too abstract

Joy’s explanations and stories would sometimes get a bit too abstract. I know this kind of knowledge is difficult to put into words (ironically), but more examples or assignments would perhaps make things easier to understand.

Lack of versatility

Whether this is a disadvantage depends on your personal preferences, but I personally like it when there’s a little change of pace or scenery in the course. Joy’s course is very static, and except for the final chapter, it includes nothing but one-on-one lessons.

Review conclusion: Is Joy Harjo’s MasterClass worth it?

Poetry is an art form that is very hard to teach. But in Joy Harjo’s MasterClass, you can find inspiration and useful tips on where to begin.

Joy is a legendary poet known for exploring First Nation storytelling and histories as well as feminist and social justice poetic traditions. In her lessons, she explains what poetry really means to her, tackling the role of activism and imagery in her work.

Joy’s course is captivating and fluid – just like her poems – and if you’re new to poetry, it offers a nice foundation to build on. For seasoned writers, it provides the possibility to gain new perspectives and tools for increasing your creativity.

This course perhaps doesn’t include a lot of theory, nor does it provide many assignments, but it teaches something that many writing courses don’t: how to find purpose and think like a poet.