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An American Sunrise: Poems

4.36  ·  Rating details ·  698 ratings  ·  120 reviews
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 ...more
Hardcover, 144 pages
Published August 13th 2019 by W. W. Norton Company
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Diane S ☔
Jan 23, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nfr-2020
There is nothing quite like poetry to give balm to ones soul. Thoughts, feelings, praises, regret, hopes, dreams told with few words but great emotion. Here, the US poet Laurete, Jo Harjo returns to her native land and in a series of works honors what was, what was lost, taken away and what will never come again. The poems are beautiful, regretful and bittersweet, but most of assessible to all readers, lovers of poetry or not.

The piece I'm quoting is part of a longer work, but this section
Aug 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Joy Harjo has been named the new US Poet Laureate in 2019, becoming the first Native American to hold the position. American Sunrise is her first published work since becoming the top poet in the United States, and, as with other collections of hers that I have read, she does not disappoint here. This new volume pays homage to her ancestors who traveled the Trail of Tears. Her spiritual grandfather Monawee has been able to travel beyond the boundaries of time and visit members of his tribe and ...more
Leslie Reese
Sep 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, poetry
Singing Everything
by Joy Harjo

Once there were songs for everything,
Songs for planting, for growing, for harvesting,
For eating, getting drunk, falling asleep,
For sunrise, birth, mind-break, and war.
For death (those are the heaviest songs and they
Have to be pried from the earth with shovels of grief).
Now all we hear are falling-in-love songs and
Falling apart after falling in love songs.
The earth is leaning sideways
And a song is emerging from the floods
And fires. Urgent tendrils lift toward the
Oct 06, 2019 rated it really liked it
Named the Poet Laureate of the United States in 2019, Joy Harjo has written a collection of poems honoring her tribal history, her mother, ancestors, singing, remembrance, exile, saxophone, spirituality, and much more. In 1830 President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act. Her tribal ancestors of Muscogees (Mvskokes) were ousted from their homes and lands in Alabama, forced to abandon their lives and possessions, and trudged a Trail of Tears to the Oklahoma Territory. I was surprised to ...more
This is the first poetry I’ve read by Joy Harjo, who was named US Poet Laureate in 2019. In 1830 Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, forcing indigenous peoples out of the southeastern United States. Harjo’s family were force-marched from current-day Alabama to Oklahoma. This collection takes that Trail of Tears as a backbone, interweaving experiences from Harjo’s own life and politics, as well as relationships with the natural world, family, and those around her. I was grateful to ...more
Peter Tillman
Oct 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
Joy Harjo is also an accomplished musician -- she blows a mean sax -- and a lot of her poems are 'really' lyrics to her songs. Put her into Spotify (or whatever) and explore a bit. I'll be back.

I grew up in Oklahoma and am part Cherokee myself. Pres. Jackson's Indian Removal Act of 1830 is one of the most shameful parts of our Nation's history These were people who were trying to adapt to the American Way. It didn't work. Greedy settlers stole their land anyway, and turned them off their
Sep 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Our current Poet Laureate looks back in memory, horror, honor, curiosity at the trials of her people, the Mvskoke, forcibly removed in the early 1800s from their homes east of the Mississippi, to Indian Territory, now part of Oklahoma. She looks at our current moment with concern, anger, but remarkably, hope, and gives the reader cause to keep looking forward for the same. The mind reels at the thought that we can have such a Poet Laureate on hand at a time when cruelty and ignorance sullies our ...more
Kristin Boldon
A beautiful, textured book. So much to love here.
Deedi (DeediReads) Brown
All my book reviews can be seen at

My mother had the iron pot given to her by her Cherokee mother, whose mother gave it to her, given to her by the U.S. government on the Trail of Tears.
She grew flowers in it.

Did you really expect me to give the first Native American to be named Poet Laureate of the United States anything less than five stars? Thank you so much to W. W. Norton for sending me a free finished copy — I enjoyed it so immensely.

Joy Harjo is, of
Tammy V
Dec 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I have always enjoyed Harjo's work so was happy to order her latest chapbook for my poetry shelf.

It is classis Harjo. Her poems range from straight forward toward mystical and her language is simple but beautiful - pretty much everything I require in poetry.


Exile of Memory
Do not return,
We were warned by one who knows things
You will only upset the dead.
They will emerge from the spiral of little houses
Lines up in the furrows of marrow
and walk the land.
There will be no place in memory
Craig Werner
Sep 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This isn't Harjo at her very best--for that go to Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings and In Mad Love and War--but Harjo at her second best is still one of the most important voices sounding into the wasteland we're living in. There are a few poems here that made me think that being named Poet Laureate is a slightly mixed blessing, obligating the poet to turn a bit more toward the public world than she might otherwise. Then again, Harjo has always done a beautiful job taking deep lyrical moments ...more
Lexi Nylander
Feb 11, 2020 rated it it was amazing
"Baby, baby, baby you can't say what's been said before, though even words are creatures of habit."

"Chaos is primordial. All words have roots here. You will never sleep again though you will never stop dreaming. The end can only follow the beginning. And it will zigzag through time, governments, and lovers."

"The right hand knows what the left hand is dreaming. The left hand might be less sure of the absolute world but it knows how to follow. Together. We have it."

"You must be friends with
Nov 27, 2019 rated it really liked it
Normally I wouldn't read poetry. And for those odd times that I pick up a book of poetry to read it, I normally don't rate it because I know I don't understand poetry enough to rate it fairly. Loving this collection doesn't come from the fact that I finally read poetry that I could comprehend and enjoy. It comes from the fact that many of these poems are strong and necessary. Poems that represent the power of what the art form can accomplish. Another nice feature were the added historical ...more
James F
Aug 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The newest collection of poems by the recently appointed Poet Laureate of the United States, Joy Harjo. The book reminded me very much of another poetry book by another Native American writer, N. Scott Momaday's Return to Rainy Mountain. Both books use a literal "return" (in the case of Harjo, a visit to the original homeland of the Creek nation in the Southeast) as a starting point for returning in time to both personal and family history and the history of their people. Both books also mix ...more
Rebecca Reddell
Feb 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I can't say enough about this author! Please give her work a try and find out for yourself what a memorable, tragic, beautiful, and poignant read it is! I loved it so much, I'm buying all of her poetry books!

Here's my blog review broken down: https://rebeccaswriteinspirations.blo...
Melody Riggs
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
I had to take my time with this one as some of the poems led me to looking up history about indigenous persons and events in America. The writing is beautiful, and it’s no wonder that Harjo is our current poet laureate. She blends history, activism, and storytelling into poems that I would go back and read several times just to make sure I didn’t miss anything.
Liz Mc2
Feb 10, 2020 added it
Shelves: poetry
My favourite was “Washing My Mother’s Body,” where the speaker imagines washing her mother after death (something, she says, she did not get to do)—the familiar objects, like the enamel basin she fills with water, that make her mother live in her memory. The mix of the personal and political, memory and history in this collection is often very powerful.
Nov 13, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: what-i-own
Harjo's poems are hopeful and tragic, humorous and mournful. I highly recommend this book of her poetry to everyone as we grapple with leadership in the United States that is trying to whitewash not just history, but our country.
Bob Minnick
Nov 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Inspiring, heart wrenching, empowering poems. Thank you Joy Harjo!
LeeAnna Weaver
Nov 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
Washing My Mother’s Body -magnificent poem
April Dickinson
Jan 12, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I feel more rooted and alive when reminded that trees and stones can sing. Harjo’s work is grounded, yet transcendent; modern, yet timeless. Words and history that everyone should take to heart.
Oct 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I enjoyed this one. I like Joy Harjo’s voice and the poem “Road” especially. The back half of this collection dragged for me but I’ll definitely be picking up her other collections.
Dec 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I do not read much poetry and this book has me wanting to read more. Joy Harjo was named the Poet Laureate for 2019, which put her on my radar. I read the collection through once and immediately want to re-read it. The poems, grouped by theme and often introduced with an anecdote of personal family history, are personal yet universal.
Jill Sanford
Jan 22, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Visceral, what poetry should be.
Trish Remley
Dec 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Weeping, Strong, Beautiful, Injustice, Joyful.
Jan 16, 2020 rated it really liked it
A stark reminder that America wasn't found, it was stolen.
Dec 21, 2019 rated it liked it
Joy Harjo, the first Native American to hold the laureateship, asserts what we speak always returns.
Sep 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2019
Incredible mix of prose and poetry, revealing Harjo's family history along side contemporary accounts. My favourite poems were those that she wrote to go alongside paintings by her late friend, T.C. Cannon - incredibly immersive experience to look at the paintings and then read the poem, and then look back .... etc.
Bri Lamb
Aug 15, 2019 rated it it was amazing
An intense collection, with reverance and relevance to the past, present, and future. Read it slow. Read it with care. Then read it again. It's worth it.

Some of my favorite selections:
"Mama And Papa Have The Going Home Shiprock Blues"
"Singing Everything"
"For Earth's Grandsons"
"A Refuge In The Smallest Of Places"
"Advice For Countries, Advanced, Developing And Falling"
"An American Sunrise"
R.K. Cowles
Aug 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
4 1/4 stars
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Reading Women: September - An American Sunrise 1 20 Sep 17, 2019 07:13PM  

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Bio Joy Harjo
Joy Harjo was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma and is a member of the Mvskoke Nation. She has released four award-winning CD's of original music and won a Native American Music Award (NAMMY) for Best Female Artist of the Year. She performs nationally and internationally solo and with her band, The Arrow Dynamics. She has appeared on HBO's Def Poetry Jam, in venues in every major U.S. city and
“The heart is a fist. It pockets prayer or holds rage.” 2 likes
“Once there were songs for everything, Songs for planting, for growing, for harvesting, For eating, getting drunk, falling asleep, For sunrise, birth, mind-break, and war. For death (those are the heaviest songs and they Have to be pried from the earth with shovels of grief). Now all we hear are falling-in-love songs and Falling apart after falling in love songs.” 1 likes
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