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Review: An American Sunrise by Joy Harjo

Title: An American Sunrise: Poems
Author: Joy Harjo
Year published: 2019
Category: Adult poetry
Pages: 144 pages
Rating: 4 out of 5

Location: (my 2021 Google Reading map)USA (AL, MS, AR, OK)

Summary: 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.

Review: When I visited my local east side library this past week, the librarian pointed out that this book is the "Santa Barbara Reads" book for this year. I like to participate in this event because I like that tons of people in my town are all reading the same book at the same time (including students in our schools), the author usually comes to town, and there are other events surrounding the book. And, Joy Harjo is the Poet Laureate of the United States, the first Native American to hold this position. There is a translated version of this volume for Santa Barbara Reads event, created by a local man. I like that they are making this book and the events accessible to our entire community.

The reviews for this book are wonderful, using words like stunning, rich, deeply engaging, accessible and easy to read. I agree, but each time I read a book of poetry, I am reminded that I don't always "get it." Wait. That's not quite right. It doesn't speak to me the way prose does. Maybe that's a better way to put it.

I appreciate that she is weaving the history of her people, her ancestors, the Trail of Tears, generational trauma, and love into these poems and I feel the passion that she puts forth on the pages. It's great that she includes a map of the area of the Trail of Tears and her ancestral home since they are so central to this collection. I liked a number of the poems, but especially liked the final poems called "Bless this Land."

If you are someone who enjoys poetry, I recommend this slim volume as it will give a different perspective from the one we usually hear.

Challenges for which these count:
  • Diversity: Native American (November mini challenge)
  • Literary Escapes: Arkansas

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