An American Sunrise an American Sunrise (W.W. Norton & Company, 2020) is an ode to the environment, family, and the Native rights movement. In this collection of poems, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo highlights the tribal histories of the Mvskoke people, as well as the anguish and blessings of her own experience as a native woman. In the prologue, Harjo provides an account of the events of May 18th, 1830, when her ancestors and other indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from their homes via the Indian Removal Act. Concluding the account is a haunting yet hopeful line: “May we all find the way home,” as native people are still dealing with their own Trails of Tears to this day. Harjo uses free-verse that sometimes ventures into prose-like format in order to express, uninhibitedly, the tragedies that her nation, the Mvskoke, have faced. The first few pieces in the collection are centered around exile. She blends abstract concepts such as grief and “primordial chaos” with concrete details in order to give a voice to those whose voices were silenced, such as her grandfather (from generations back), who was forced to leave his home–never to return. Harjo did return though, to what was once her ancestors’ home, Okfuskee, near what is now known as Dadeville Alabama. This is primarily where the scene of the collection is set. Harjo shifts from past to present seamlessly: juxtaposing the nurturing nature of the land with the ghosts of the past that have marked it. Of the fifty-five poems in the book, she includes songs of war, mourning cries for her mother’s death, and anecdotes of abuse and addiction. The final poem, “Bless this Land” is especially poignant. In a lyrical style that reads like an anthem, Harjo personifies the land she loves so much. She ends with a broader, universalistic perspective, stepping back from the quarrel between natives and settlers: “These lands aren’t our lands. These lands aren’t your lands. We are this land.”
Natalie Diaz weaves a tapestry of humanity in her poetry collection, Post-Colonial Love Poem (Graywolf Press, 2020). On a global scale, Diaz exposes the violence involved in the subjugation of an indigenous culture. She explores the human desire to control another, be it in the colonization of Native American people or on a more intimate scale, in exerting control over another individual. Diaz’ own identity as an indigenous, Native American queer woman is explored throughout this collection. She examines how relationships impact and form an individual’s identity. “I am touched—I am. / This is my knee, since she touches me there. / This is my throat, as defined by her reaching.” Being identified and subsequently changed by interpersonal relationships is explored throughout Diaz’ work. Many of Diaz’ poems are poignant witnesses of family and racial violence. She confronts stereotypes and bias through vivid imagery, “When Walt Whitman wrote, the half-breed straps on his light boots to compete in the race, he really meant that all Indian men over age 40 have a pair of vintage Air Jordans in their closets.” Diaz further uses her mastery of language to define Talbot 2 race and racism. “Police kill Native Americans more / than any other race. Race is a funny word. / Race implies someone will win, / sometimes race means run.” Diaz further challenges racial bias, “Americans prefer a magical red Indian, or a shaman, or a / fake Indian in a red dress, over a real Native. Even a real Native carrying the dangerous and / heavy blues of a river in her body.” The “drought” that is humanity, is explored thoroughly in this collection, “The ache / of thirst, though, translates to all bodies along the same paths– the tongue, / the throat, the kidneys. No matter what language you speak, no matter the / color of your skin.” Throughout this collection, Diaz honors her own identity. She honors her heritage while mourning the displacement of her people, culture and the environment, “If I say, my river is disappearing, do I also mean, my people are disappearing?” Diaz connects the past with the present, the “ache of thirst,” needs and desires throughout the entirety of this moving collection. Although these harsh truths–racism and the loss of identity–are difficult topics, Diaz’ discovery of a new identity emerges in every poem, conveying a vulnerable hope and tenderness.
In You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves, Diana Whitney arranges a wide variety of poetry from diverse authors into a beautiful tapestry of what it means to be a woman. Whitney compiles a selection of poems depicting eight specific emotions many women can relate to. She introduces each section with her own feelings about each emotion, capturing the essence of relatability through each poem she references and each experience she presents. In this sense, Whitney uses poems like “Questions for Google” by Elizabeth Spires to describe the feeling of “seeking” or discovering. While vague, the questions posed by Spires convey a complete sense of seeking, as she is seeking for answers herself. While not as full of imagery as a majority of other poems in the collection, “Questions for Google” is no doubt a poem that many women and girls can relate to. Asking questions is a natural part of our existence. Whitney also uses poems replete with imagery and vibrant experience to convey more completely the section theme. “Black Daughter’s Pointillism” by Amanda Gorman uses copious amounts of imagery in not only the words she uses, but the page layout as well. The poem is arranged in such a way to create the silhouette of a woman. Each instance of imagery further conveys the larger theme of the section, which is “attitude.” Whitney’s inclusion of “Black Daughter’s Pointillism” was an inspired idea that will resonate with the many women that read this collection. Though Diana Whitney is not the sole author of the poetry in this book, she has carefully crafted a wonderful resource for women who want to belong. You Don’t Have to Be Everything: Poems for Girls Becoming Themselves is full of ideas and reassurances that women everywhere should be reminded of.