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Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light

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These poems taken from half a century of Joy Harjo’s work show the powerful words and moving themes that have made her an unforgettable voice in the world of poetry. Even better, it includes an introduction by Sandra Cisneros, Harjo’s notes on inspirations for various poems, and a reflection on what her poems reveal about the current world. I honestly love this form of retrospective, and I would love for every prolific poet to publish something similar. Seeing Harjo's reflections on her work is really powerful, and being able to see how her poetry has shifted over the decades is really meaningful. This is a fantastic collection whether it's your first or hundredth time exploring Harjo's poetry.
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Out of all the forms of writing, poetry is the most subjective—depending on highly personal preferences, such as whether or not someone likes/enjoys/understands the subjects a poet dwells on, the way their prose sings (or not) with a reader, and the imagery drawn in a reader’s head, some poets connect well with some readers, and others do not. Unfortunately, this collection, unlike prior collections by Harjo, did not connect with me, and I was baffled by this conclusion, as I’ve read a few of her other collections and memoirs before and enjoyed the majority of them.

The subjects that Harjo dwells on in this career-spanning collection are wide and varied, but most of them come back to a few themes: living as a Native American woman in modern-day America and having to deal with the trauma that requires; growing up as an independent woman raising several kids while struggling to put food on the table and committing to something as deeply personal as art; and broader darker themes, such as violence against women and Native Americans over the course of America’s history, crumbling family systems, and struggling to scrape by in the economic morass that America became in the second half of the twentieth century. While that all sounds dark and depressing, there are a lot of poems thrown in that celebrate some of the subjects listed prior, such as the joy of taking control of your life and trying to forge your own destiny, the joy of seeing a sunrise over a desert mountain, and the social/mental/emotional pleasures of having a family to call your own.

Connecting with poetry oftentimes has more to do with just the subject matter though, and I think this is where I struggled with Harjo’s collection that spanned some fifty-odd years of her career—the style of the poems was all over the place, and a lot of the styles chosen for some of the poems were just not ones that I personally loved. There are a significant amount of prose poems in this collection, and people usually feel one way or the other with that style of poetry, and it oftentimes depends on both the subject of the poem and the way that the lines of prose seem to sing (or not) on the page. I just didn’t find Harjo’s language to be elevated or beautiful in most of them, and they seemed to be filled with nothing but declarative sentences and base-level descriptions of their scenes or settings. 

There is also a section at the very end of the collection where Harjo reveals the inspirations behind most of the poems, and this was the highlight of the entire book for me. I loved finding out both what the poems were supposed to mean and represent and where the ideas came from, but I wished they had been introduced either before or after each poem individually. I read through all the poems at first and then discovered the section at the end, and I found it tedious to go back and forth to see which poems she was referencing. I feel like it was an uneven way to discover the magic that the poems were supposed to represent with the reader, and by having them before or after the poems and getting that immediate story along with them, the poems would’ve had much more impact with me in the moment.

At the end of the day, Harjo is a legend in the American literary community, and I understand her importance on so many levels related to both her position in the poetry world and the way she’s shattered many glass ceilings. Even though I didn’t connect with much of the work in this book, I highly recommend the collection still, as the poems would appeal to a lot of other people’s poetical tastes, and she is a master of most styles of poetry (she didn’t become a three-time U.S. Poet Laureate for nothing). And, as the subjects Harjo tackles within her poems are extremely heavy but important, I would encourage all libraries or anyone who has a large poetry library to include this volume, as career-spanning collections usually contain the work that the individual poet deems his or her most important poems, and that holds true here, especially by giving a voice to a segment of the American population that is far too often overlooked in both history books and society in general.

Thanks to NetGalley, W. W. Norton & Company, and Joy Harjo for the digital ARC of 'Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light' in exchange for an honest review.
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Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light is not my first experience reading Joy Harjo's poetry, but it might be the experience that has impacted me the most. This collection of fifty poems spanning the fifty years of her career is a beautiful representation of her career as well as being a beautiful collection of poetry regardless of context. Sandra Cisneros penned a lovely foreword. Harjo's notes at the end are a special treasure, offering up the backgrounds of poems, the events and ideas that helped breathe life into them. 

My favourite poems in the collection are She Had Some Horses, For Anna Mae Pictou Aquash, A Postcolonial Tale, The Dawn Appears With Butterflies, Perhaps the World Ends Here, For Calling the Spirit Back From Wandering the Earth In Its Human Feet, and Rabbit is Up to Tricks.

Highly recommended!
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Joy Harjo's Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light was a book I highly anticipated, and the introduction by Sandra Cisneros, recounting how their friendship began when they were both at University of Iowa's Writers' Workshop together and the joy as she'd reflect on when their paths would cross over the years, whetted my appetite for what I was about to experience.

Weaving Sundown gathers fifty poems across fifty years of Harjo's work. Themes of place and impact are replete in these pages, of barriers overcome and struggles survived. 

I am drawn to poems, while also recognizing I don't catch everything and wishing I was more schooled in the framework of poetry. As such, while the poems themselves reliably drew me in, there was another level of enjoyment when I reached Harjo's notes at the close of the volume. As I read more about the context or inspiration of the individual poems, I found myself returning to the respective poems to read them anew, with some additional context now in my possession.

(I received a digital ARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.)
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Beautiful poems reprised with an insightful essay from Sandra Cisneros that gives readers a glimpse of what Harjo is like in person and how strongly she affected her peers. A perfect collection of Harjo's poems over the years.
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Joy Harjo is a treasure  -- what  a  beautiful collection, what a stunning career. So many of these poems are standouts, but "Washing My Mother's Body" hit particularly hard. Harjo's reflections on each entry are absolutely essential, as is the introduction by  Sandra Cisneros.
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Joy Harjo, three-time Poet Laureate of the United States, and a Native American, has been studying the world for a lot of years. Out of her observations has come another wonderful poetry collection, covering her fifty years of being a poet. Many of the poems have been previously published. These have a brief explanation to go along with them, and how they came into being. I found this helpful as I don't always understand her poems. She writes with honesty and isn't afraid to tackle tough subjects, suicide, rape, abuse, death, as well as the Covid pandemic and other Black and Native American tragedies. 

If you are new to Joy Harjo, this is a place to start. If you are a seasoned Joy Harjo reader, this is a wonderful book to add to your collection.
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This was absolutely beautiful. I love that her poems reflect history and its brutality. Her poems are nostalgic and tragic at times. Each one has stuck with me in different ways. I cannot recommend this collection enough!
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Thanks to NetGalley and WW Norton for the ARC. This book is wonderful. I loved the imagery, and as someone who lives in Oklahoma, I could actually see the places she describes. The descriptions of motherhood were also amazing. Overall, this book was great.
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Huge thank you to Netgalley and WW Norton & Company for this arc!

As everyone probably already knows about me, I LOVE Joy Harjo. As a Mvskoke Creek woman, I love how transcendent she is and how I really feel the connection to a lot of her words and her stories. Her writing is absolutely stunning and you can guarantee that it will make you FEEL something. Her  collection of poems in Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light are so dark, beautiful and full of life and loss that I know I will be re-reading this again. Some of the poems in here might be familiar if you have read her work before, and I loved the explanations of them. I think this would be a fantastic starting point of Harjo's work because of those explanations.

This is out on 11/01!
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Thank you to the publisher and NetGalley for providing an advanced reader copy of this luminous collection of poems. 
I am an avid fan of Joy Harjo's poetry and have followed her career for many years. I routinely teach her work in my American literature and AP literature courses, and this collection will definitely be one I recommend to my students. Encompassing her long career, this collection is an excellent starting point for people new to her work. If you are familiar with her, it is both familiar and fresh, and her notes at the end about each poem are wonderful resources for those of us who teach her work. Highly recommend!
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I was so glad to read this book of poems, it came at a time when I really needed some of these words. So many of these poems were impactful to me. Joy’s use of time and space was wonderful and interesting. What I most enjoyed was the element at the end of the book where Joy shares stories about the meaning or the birth of each of the poems. I wish that the book was arranged so that those stories fell directly after the poems, instead of all the poems being in one section and then all the stories and explanations in the next. It was frustrating to try and go back to the poems on my Kindle, and I felt the need to reread many of the poems after reading Joy’s additional writing about them. I will definitely be keeping some of these poems in my journal, and I will look forward to seeking out more of her work in the future, this was a phenomenal introduction.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, W. W. Norton & Company, for providing me with a copy of the book in exchange for this honest review!!
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Even if you somehow aren't already a great fan of Joy Harjo and her earth-connected, ancestor-honoring, child-celebrating, grounded love poetry, you should read this book. It's a beautiful review of a career that struggled in and out of wider support and stayed consistently on track, with a poet who is also a visual artist and jazz musician but chose poetry as the lifeline she needed to tell her story.

Here, in Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light, Harjo shares 50 poems for her 50 years as a poet, which was capped off by the conclusion of her third term last year as our nation's first Native American/indigenous poet laureate. 

The intro by novelist Sandra Cisneros, who studied at the Iowa Writer's Workshop with Joy Harjo in the early years of their writing careers, is a wise essay that alone makes the book worth the price of admission. Cisneros' admiring, authentic bit of remembrance shows us Joy's integrity and fierceness as a young, single mother living in student housing, and then after as she left a tenured position to protest unfettered sexual harrasment on campus. Cisneros' piece is followed not only by Joy's 50 favorite poems but also by a mini-essay about each poem from Harjo, in which she explains where she was in her life (literally and figuratively),what the poem meant to her, and what she hopes it means to you.

Covering as it does half a century, this is a rich, rewarding book. About halfway through, in "For Calling the Spirit Back from Wandering the Earth in its Human Feet," she urges a half-human/ half=ghost to "turn off that cellphone, computer, and remote control...." "Let the earth stabilize your postcolonial, insecure jitters" and, "Don't worry. The heart knows the way though there may be high-rises, interstates, checkpoints, armed soldiers, massacres, wars, and those who will despise you because they despise themselves." Once you make your way to the fire that kept burning for you, you must hold no regrets and must "cut the ties you have to failure and shame."

Harjo wants for all of her readers, though especially indigenous women, to find their voices, to come into their own. In "A Postcolonial Tale," she recalls that "Once we abandoned ourselves for television, the box that separates the dreamer from the dreaming."  In "I Give You Back," she tells fear she is done with him: "I take myself back, fear. You are not my shadow any longer." Her romantic poems (such as "To My Man's Feet") are rich with powerful physical love that transcends time and trouble. Her memories stretch back before this life. She knows that no matter how bleak things look, we are always in a cycle, waiting for the earth to turn back to greatness. I felt nourished by this collection.
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This is a beautiful compilation of Harjo's poems, arranged in new ways of conversation and engagement with the others around it. It's a remarkable journey of joy, discovery, and language that matters.
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I'm just starting to delve into Joy Harjo, and I found this collection of 50 poems to be a good place to begin.

This collection deals with a spectrum of topics, and I enjoyed the variety. What particularly interests me about this collection is the notes that the poet has written as a short background to each poem. This level of explanation was satisfying to my inner nerd, and I enjoyed the details immensely.

"We will be accompanied by ancient songs
And will celebrate together"
from Prepare

There are many treasures in this collection for a poetry lover.

*I received an e-arc of this book from the publisher and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review."
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I did a close study of Joy Harjo when I was an undergraduate and minored in "American Indian Studies" (as the university called it) and tied everything I possibly could to poetry. I read every book she had, watched old, jumpy VHS tapes (ah, the wealth of YouTube has changed so much) and appreciated the work she did.

I wish I had this book when I paid such close attention to her--this book is stunning and so good. Each poem zings, and now, as an adult who teaches a class called Native Literature, I cannot wait to share pieces of this book of poems with my students. She's such an important figure in poetry today.

Thank you to NetGalley for an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
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All poets understand the final uselessness of words.

from Bird by Jo Harjo
After I read Jo Harjo’s poem The Woman Hanging From the Thirteenth-Floor Window I could not get that image out of my head. A woman, all women, clinging with their fingers, hanging from a window, thinking “of all the women she has been, of all the men,” of the loneliness, and yet not alone, seeing all the other women hanging, either falling or climbing back in.

It’s shattering.

As a Native American woman, Harjo’s poems reflect the brutal reality of history. Washing My Mother’s Body, a poem so tender, so nostalgic, shares a history of a woman’s strength and struggle against the legacy of 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. “The story is all there, in her body,” and she remembers while she imagines washing her mother’s body because she could not in real life.

Harjo speaks truths with directness, fearlessly.

I’m not afraid of love
or its consequence of light.

It’s not easy to say this
or anything when my entrails
dangle between paradise
and fear.

I am ashamed
I never had the words
to carry a friend from her death
to the stars
correctly.

Or the words to keep
my people safe
from drought
or gunshot.

The stars who were created by words
are circling over this house
formed of calcium, of blood

this house
in danger of being torn apart
by stones of fear.

If these words can do anything
if these songs can do anything
I say bless this house
with stars.

Transfix us with love.

from The Creation Story by Jo Harjo

These poems seized me with their power.

I received a free egalley from the publisher through NetGalley. My review is fair and unbiased.
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Joy Harmony is a national  treasure. Her poetry is both specific to her unique life yet resonates with everyone.  What a joy to read this collection.
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Joy Harjo has been writing poetry for a half century now and is a major stakeholder in the move to incorporate indigenous American voices. I remember her from the scene twenty five years ago when the post of American Poet Laureate unlikely, even for a single term, let alone three, not from lack of talent, but because it was one of those visions never imagined back in those days. Now her work is firmly in the canon of significant contribution to English language letters and taught in schools everywhere.

This is a selection from her work, fifty poems in all, over her whole career with notes on each poem at the end. She has a voice that is hard to mistake, forceful but not aggressive, free to yoke together the landscapes and people she has known, and to state what she has seen that other people never seem to mention. I especially like the shorter pieces with the economy and compression she displays so effectively to bring forth beauty. I don't know whether this is the kind of volume which is the best introduction for someone who wants to get to know her writing for the first time or whether it would be easier to start with one of the books where the poems are closer together in time and the connections between them might be more direct.

I read this book as an advance reader copy through Netgalley in exchange for sharing my review.
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Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for an eARC of Weaving Sundown in a Scarlet Light: Fifty Poems for Fifty Years by Joy Harjo!

This collection perfectly showcases Joy's history as a poet, giving favorite and memorable poems another spotlight. I loved that the poems seemed to flow alongside Joy's life. You see her history in all forms on each page from beginning to end. As an avid reader of hers, this was a delight. Some poems I particularly enjoyed this time around were "The Dawn Appears with Butterflies," "Equinox," and "Redbird Love."

What I loved as well was Joy explaining the poems at the end, how they came to fruition and what mindsets she was in when they came to be. How not all of them are necessarily drawn from her life, in fact, a lot seem to be from elsewhere that she crafted into these poems of her own. If you are a reader like me, who will read anything Joy publishes, but has some difficulty fully grasping some of the poems, this collection will help a lot with understanding what you might not have initially picked up on. There was also another layer of connectivity in understanding the stories behind the poems.

I think this is a great collection for avid readers of Joy and new readers. Avid readers will get to revisit poems that made them love Joy's work and new readers will get to see in one collection such an important piece of her life.

TW: mentions of rape, suicide, divorces, sodomy, drugs, genocide, colonization, assimilation, abuse, death threats, poverty, suicidal thoughts, murder, torture, death, 9/11, covid pandemic, black and native tragedies.
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