A stunning new volume from the first Native American Poet Laureate of the United States, informed by her tribal history and connection to the land.
In the early 1800s, the Mvskoke people were forcibly removed from their original lands east of the Mississippi to Indian Territory, which is now part of Oklahoma. Two hundred years later, Joy Harjo returns to her family’s lands and opens a dialogue with history. In An American Sunrise, Harjo finds blessings in the abundance of her homeland and confronts the site where her people, and other indigenous families, essentially disappeared. From her memory of her mother’s death, to her beginnings in the native rights movement, to the fresh road with her beloved, Harjo’s personal life intertwines with tribal histories to create a space for renewed beginnings. Her poems sing of beauty and survival, illuminating a spirituality that connects her to her ancestors and thrums with the quiet anger of living in the ruins of injustice. A descendent of storytellers and “one of our finest—and most complicated—poets” (Los Angeles Review of Books), Joy Harjo continues her legacy with this latest powerful collection.
Newly named poet laureate and Ruth Lilly prize winner Harjo (Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings) intertwines verse with prose vignettes, oral histories, and flash memoirs in this expressive and generous book. In a fable about the origins of the saxophone that "made a rip in the sky," she writes: "Musicians are musicians, no trick will get by./ You either have it, or want it/ Nothing else will fly." Harjo exhibits this gift in the tight choreography of these pages, evoking the music of her Muskogee ancestors who were among the native peoples forcibly relocated by Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830. Music is "a sack that carries the bones of those left alongside/ The trail of tears," she writes. Harjo offers poems of lament and praise, pleas for patience and calls to action: "In the fog of thin hope, I wander this sad world/ We've made with the enemy's words." Harjo invites the reader to consider the "many migrations stacked within sky memory," including, most immediately, "the indigenous peoples who are making their way up from the southern hemisphere." "Nothing is ever/ forgotten says the god of remembering," she writes in tones that will speak to readers who are ready to remember, or to learn anew.