Joy Harjo a member of the Mvskoke Nation and is the current Poet Laureate of the United States. In An American Sunrise, Harjo skillfully crafts a collection poems that are deeply personal to her own life, highly informative of the Native history and experience, and wonderfully universal in truth and beauty.
What I found the most beautiful of the entire collection was Harjo’s ability to weave not just consistent themes throughout the entire collection but her ability to layer details, events, and people throughout the entire collection. While each poem was separate and unique, An American Sunrise is entirely cohesive; she is constantly circling back to her grandfather, her ancestors’ lands, the horror of the Trail of Tears, and more. Further tying together each poem into a single collection is Harjo’s balance of metaphoric and concrete language. At times, she writes in simile and metaphor and anthropomorphism while other times she is blunt and plain and clear.
Harjo reads her own works for the audiobook version of An American Sunrise which is a gift unto itself. I feel that good poetry can be read a myriad of ways with each of those ways bringing new meaning and interpretation to the poem. However, to hear Harjo’s deep, rich voice pause and break and sing through her poems was at many times breathtaking. This is especially true during “Chehotosakvtes” in which Harjo sings a song in a Native language.
Some of my favorite poems from the collection:
“Washing My Mother’s Body”: In this poem, Harjo writes about washing her mother’s body after she has passed. This poem is heartbreakingly personal, vulnerable, and tender.
“Singing Everything”: This poem is one of Harjo’s shorter pieces, but it is so impactful. One of my favorite lines of the entire collection is from this poem: “For death, those are the heaviest songs and they have to be pried from the earth with shovels of grief”.
“My Man’s Feet”: This poem takes something as mundane as feet and manages to transform them into something magical and beautiful.