If you read only one book of poems this summer, make it An American Sunrise ... stunning ... Every step of the journey is deeply moving. Harjo doesn’t just honor the people, creatures and landscapes that were lost, she embodies and embraces them ... Rich and deeply engaging, An American Sunrise creates bridges of understanding while reminding readers to face and remember the past.
... casts an undeniably critical eye on the kinds of policies — and people — Trump tends to support ... Her poems are accessible and easy to read, but making them no less penetrating and powerful, spoken from a deep and timeless source of compassion for all — but also from a very specific and justified well of anger ... a stark reminder of what poetry is for and what it can do: how it can hold contradictory truths in mind, how it keeps the things we ought not to forget alive and present.
... bold and exciting ... Harjo’s decision to insert historical descriptions is curious. They provide context and explain topics such as the Columbian Quincentenary, the history of saxophones, and the mounds in Tennessee. These images should be poems and speak for themselves ... As poems, descriptions would provide metaphors with layers of meaning. Harjo’s poetics would force readers to learn content, to harness it, thus making true history a permanent memory instead of a passive read ... But in the end she grips us with song...In tribal language, she sings of her ancestors dancing together, reuniting, and celebrating life; she fortifies the spirit of family: to learn from elders, cherish culture, love one another, celebrate today, and then welcome tomorrow ... Harjo evokes images, emotions, and places in a poetic biography of family perseverance. She proves sentiment. She transforms tribal and ancestral memories, history, and culture into feelings of grief, compassion, togetherness, and acceptance within the rugged American landscape. All of us will enjoy this historical, poetic, and lyrical collection.
It can be easy, reading Harjo, to lose footing in such intangibles, but some of her themes achieve a strange resonance ... Harjo is at her most overtly political in her prose passages, which detail how the prejudices of white America erode the lives of Monahwee and other Native Americans. But her poems, too, veer into critique, though their strength varies ... Harjo is stunning in these moments of brutality, when she exposes the human potential for evil ... she shows a deft manipulation of structure, her dramatic enjambment (“What they cannot kill / they take”) giving depth to narrative turns and images. But, elsewhere, her control falters...in cases when the object of Harjo’s invective is vague, she loses the bull’s-eye strike of her specificity ... Harjo interrogates both one’s responsibility toward one’s culture and the fear of being buried under its weight. The result gives a sense of nuance to her work, implicating the very words on the page ... At their best, Harjo’s poems inform each other, linking her different modes, facilitating her tendency to zoom from a personal experience to a more empyrean one ... Harjo, though very much a poet of America, extracts from her own personal and cultural touchstones a more galactal understanding of the world, and her poems become richer for it.
Harjo confronts the ghosts of her ancestors—she explores a lingering feeling of injustice and tries to forge a new beginning, all the while weaving in themes of beauty and survival ... while the subject matter of her new poems continuously hits you in the gut, Harjo brings a sense of resilience to that dark history too; she refuses to give it complete power.
Harjo’s warm oracular voice so lends itself to being out there in the world — spoken, placarded, among people — it would seem the most unusual place for it would be in something so lonely as a book ... forms a powerful reminder as to why Harjo’s voice is so at home everywhere. It is an exile’s voice, the home of a woman whose home was taken from her and her ancestors, Mvskoke people, years ago ... One of the great pleasures of reading Harjo's work on the page is to feel one's mind carol again. To feel it sing along with the poet. Using repetitions, call outs to the reader, and lines so bent and true they sometimes sound like a country western song, Harjo is one of our most sonically pleasing poets ... When a poet scales her gaze so grandly, something strange and miraculous happens to poetry. It opens up and becomes more than a mere literary device, it becomes a delivery system of wonder. It turns into a unit of delight that, like power, must be shared ... Only Lawrence Ferlinghetti, the 100-year-old bookseller, publisher and poet, has written verse this wondrous at the source of all life. Like him, Harjo’s goal as a poet has been to wake us up, to talk to us as if there is nothing so natural as singing. It is impossible to read this beautiful book and not wonder if our world would be a little better if more of us remembered how.
... resplendent and reverberating ... deeply rooted in tribal and family experiences, nature, land, and tradition. Harjo places swatches of history between her entrancing lyrics like specimens of poisonous plants in a naturalist’s log ... Harjo’s bracing political perspective is matched by timeless wisdom as she reflects on her life and lessons learned, and celebrates her time-bending grandfather, saxophone-playing grandmother (Harjo does the same), Earth’s bounty, and the transcendent power of song and love. In clarion, incantatory poems that recalibrate heart and mind, Harjo conveys both the endless ripples of loss and the brightening beauty and hope of the sunrise.
... both history lesson and traditional collection ... While the focus is on the past, the present does not go unnoticed ... It is notable that Harjo — perhaps — remains hopeful about the nation's future, as she didn’t title this collection An American Sunset.