Five Poems by US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo

Imagine having your land stolen from you. Imagine returning a century later and feeling that displacement in your bones, in your family’s stories. What stirs within? The poems of US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo sing of beauty and survival, illuminating a spirituality that connects her to her ancestors and thrums with the quiet anger of living amid the ruins of injustice. Her book, An American Sunrise: Poems, is our NEA Big Read book for 2021.

Every year, the Festival partners with NEA Big Read to host a series of events focused on a single book as a point of departure for conversations throughout New Haven. An initiative of the National Endowment for the Arts in partnership with Arts Midwest, the NEA Big Read broadens our understanding of our world, our communities, and ourselves through the joy of sharing a good book.

Learn more about the NEA Big Read and stay tuned for related events, including a panel on Indigenous writing in New England, an Indigenous cooking workshop, and more.

For a crash course in Harjo’s work, start with these five poems that radically alter perceptions of time, nature, and intimacy.

“An American Sunrise,” the flagship poem and namesake of Harjo’s book, shows the Indigenous struggle beyond time and contemporary ideas of sin and morality. 

“Conflict Resolution for Holy Beings” demands recognition and a return to sovereignty of the land. 

“Don’t bother the Earth Spirit” is a quiet, short poem that invites the reader to consider nature not as passive, but as a creator in her own right. 

“Perhaps the World Ends Here” bears witness to our most intimate moments of love, loss, and mundane life. 

“Ah, ah” is a rhythmic meditation on water and all those who interact with it, from the crow to the wave to the airplane sputtering above it. 

Watch Joy Harjo reading her work at the Academy of American Poets on June 17, 2019.