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  • Paige Ottosen

An American Sunrise an American Sunrise

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.”



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