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United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo gathers the work of more than 160 poets, representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, into the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing fro United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo gathers the work of more than 160 poets, representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, into the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing from Pulitzer Prize–winner N. Scott Momaday, the book contains powerful introductions from contributing editors who represent the five geographically organized sections. Each section begins with a poem from traditional oral literatures and closes with emerging poets, ranging from Eleazar, a seventeenth-century Native student at Harvard, to Jake Skeets, a young Diné poet born in 1991, and including renowned writers such as Luci Tapahanso, Natalie Diaz, Layli Long Soldier, and Ray Young Bear. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through offers the extraordinary sweep of Native literature, without which no study of American poetry is complete.


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United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo gathers the work of more than 160 poets, representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, into the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing fro United States Poet Laureate Joy Harjo gathers the work of more than 160 poets, representing nearly 100 indigenous nations, into the first historically comprehensive Native poetry anthology. This landmark anthology celebrates the indigenous peoples of North America, the first poets of this country, whose literary traditions stretch back centuries. Opening with a blessing from Pulitzer Prize–winner N. Scott Momaday, the book contains powerful introductions from contributing editors who represent the five geographically organized sections. Each section begins with a poem from traditional oral literatures and closes with emerging poets, ranging from Eleazar, a seventeenth-century Native student at Harvard, to Jake Skeets, a young Diné poet born in 1991, and including renowned writers such as Luci Tapahanso, Natalie Diaz, Layli Long Soldier, and Ray Young Bear. When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through offers the extraordinary sweep of Native literature, without which no study of American poetry is complete.

30 review for When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through: A Norton Anthology of Native Nations Poetry

  1. 5 out of 5

    Diane S ☔

    I bought this a few weeks ago as a Christmas gift for my poetry loving daughter. I started looking at a few of the poems and just kept reading, so it's a gift served twice. I fell in love with the title, it's so full of hope. I also loved that I finished it on the same day that the incoming Biden administration named Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. Can't think of a better person to head this Department than this Native American woman. Brilliant pick imo. Each of these poems in the antho I bought this a few weeks ago as a Christmas gift for my poetry loving daughter. I started looking at a few of the poems and just kept reading, so it's a gift served twice. I fell in love with the title, it's so full of hope. I also loved that I finished it on the same day that the incoming Biden administration named Deb Haaland as Secretary of the Interior. Can't think of a better person to head this Department than this Native American woman. Brilliant pick imo. Each of these poems in the anthology are preceded by a short bio of the post. Some of the poems are quite lengthy, other shorter but many speak to all, not just Native Americans. The book is edited by Not Harjo who is the Poet Laureate of the US. Here is one of the shorter poems, but it was one I loved. St. James Lake by James Thomas Stevens "On a footbridge crossing the lake toward Horse Guard Road, I stop to listen as dim twittering grow to a deafening roar. This is how the body is, suddenly aware of its own dull this. Knowing, how our own song completes the chorus. How each preened park-goer carries a specific yet woefully similar call, Sanctuary

  2. 5 out of 5

    Cheryl

    “The United States is a very young country and has been in existence for only a few hundred years. Indigenous peoples have been here for thousands upon thousands of years and we are still here.Like the Mahabharata of the Hindu religion or the Iliad of ancient Greece, every culture, every tradition has its literature that guides and defines it—and the cultures indigenous to North America are no different. What is shared with all tribal nations in North America is the knowledge that the earth is a “The United States is a very young country and has been in existence for only a few hundred years. Indigenous peoples have been here for thousands upon thousands of years and we are still here.Like the Mahabharata of the Hindu religion or the Iliad of ancient Greece, every culture, every tradition has its literature that guides and defines it—and the cultures indigenous to North America are no different. What is shared with all tribal nations in North America is the knowledge that the earth is a living being, and a belief in the power of language to create, to transform, and to establish change. Walking through these poems is also a kind of homecoming. In a literal sense, our bodies carry traces of where we were born and raised: oxygen isotopes from the water we drank as children are stored within the buds of our teeth, formed before birth or during childhood. The poems in this volume carry, within their words and white spaces, indelible traces of the place where we emerged. Before contact with European invaders we were estimated at over 112 million. By 1650 we were fewer than six million. Today we are one-half of one percent of the total population of the United States. Imagine the African continent with one-half of one percent of indigenous Africans and you might understand the immensity of the American holocaust.” I had a long meditation on what this country and word could have been like, if American Indians colonized Europe instead. Or a peace loving religion like Taoism had worldwide dominion. I am of the perennial optimism that humans to their core are good, not evil, so the same trajectory should not have happened. It is a paradox, that Christianity in Europe pushed so many people to revolution and invention, but also to colonization, which was an evil spread far and wide. As Wallace Stegner says, where you find the greatest good, you will find the greatest evil because evil loves paradise as much as good. Lately there is talk about slavery being our original sin, but it is not, annihilation and theft of the land from Native Nations is. Back to reality, some of these poems speak to the legacy of the annihilation perpetuated on American Indians, or Native Nations. And we learned about it at some point, and what did we think? What did we say? What did we do, or who did we tell? I think I was in Arizona reading about efforts to secure sovereignty for Native Nations in 1999, and reading Vine Deloria’s God is Red and falling more and more in love with my country, which was stolen from others, so is it even my country? I am in love with the land, the landscape, the sense of nature and being outside, in a mystical and meditative frame of mind. Some of the poems address that also. If you do nothing else, read Leslie Marmo Silko’s Long Time Ago. It made me sob in how it is describes what is wrong with the people that colonized this land, and it is still happening, in climate deniers, and people who can’t be bothered to protect the earth. It is not so long ago, it is now, and my heart is breaking for the earth and the people who are already affected by terrible air and fires and erratic weather. Evil is taking over paradise, and while I am optimistic about humans, I am less so about the way our world is going. These poets have already experienced their annihilation, trying to make their way to wholeness and we have so much to learn from them. I think of a world populated by people who have a love of the land and hope we can get there, hoping against all hope. Emily Pauline Johnston, Mohawk : West wind, blow from your prairie nest, Blow from the mountains, blow from the west. The sail is idle, the sailor too; O! wind of the west, we wait for you. Blow, blow! I have wooed you so, But never a favour you bestow. You rock your cradle the hills between, But scorn to notice my white lateen. I stow the sail, unship the mast: August is laughing across the sky, PETER BLUE CLOUD, Mohawk What we are given sleeping plant sings the seed a beat shaken in the globe of a rattle, to dance by the quick breath of the singer warms and drum and awakens the seed to life And the sound Let us now had a wholeness and a meaning shake the rattle beyond questioning. GAIL TREMBLAY, Onandaga and Mi’Kmaq Light dances in the body, surrounds all living things— even the stones sing although their songs are infinitely slower than the ones we learn from trees. No human voice lasts long enough to make such music sound. ROBERTA HILL WHITEMAN, Oneida We still help earth walk her spiral way, feeling the flow of rivers and their memories of turning and change. These rivers remember their ancient names, Ha-ha Wa’-kpa, where people moved in harmony thousands of years before trade became more valuable than lives. DENISE SWEET, Anishinaabe Hear the voice of my song—it is my voice I speak to your naked heart. —Chippewa Charming Song Like the back of your hand, he said to me, you’ll learn the land by feel, each place a name from memory, each stone a fingerprint, and the winds: they have their houses of cedar KARENNE WOOD, Monacan This is to say we continued. As though continuing changed us. As though continuing brought happiness as we had known. Maybe evening wears into night. The stars that connect us gather like sisters around her. We hear, They were hard times, across the continuous land of our women, until as sun rises above the droning flies and the garrulous chickens, a voice speaks in our old language, which we do not know. We sift through a history with dust on our hands, the empty rocker creaking in the breeze. Suzan Shown Harjo, Cheyenne /Hodulgee Muscogee The Song that sang itself had no language it was a heartbeat that thundered through the canyons of time LOIS RED ELK, Isanti/Hunkpapa/Ihanktonwa Our blood remembers. In vision he foresaw the demise of that man, the one with yellow hair. “Soldiers falling upside down into camp,” he saw. Champion of the people, a visionary, he taught us how to dream, this ancestor of our blood. He instructed, “Let us put our minds together to see what life we will make for our children”— those pure from God. Remember? Pure from God, the absolute gift, from our blood and blessed by heaven’s stars. And, we too, pure from God, our spirit, our blood, our minds and our tongues. The sun dancer knew this, showed us how to speak the words and walk the paths our children would follow. Remember? GWEN NELL WESTERMAN, Dakota/Cherokee Our creation story tells us we came from the stars to this place Bdote where the Minnesota and Mississippi rivers converge, our journey along the Wanaġi Caŋku, in our universe, that stargazers later called the Milky Way now disappearing in the excessive glow of a million million urban uplights. The original inhabitants of this place, of our universe, we are Wicaŋĥpi Oyate, Star People and will remain here as long as we can see ourselves in the stars. HEID E. ERDRICH, Anishimaabe ///NOTES OF PRE-OCCUPIED DIGRESSION: Descendants of the indigenous population of the US remain just a tad less than 1% of the population according to the 2010 census. If you add Native Hawaiians to the total we are 1.1% of the population. So, we are, more or less, the original 1% as well as the original 100%. We were the land’s before we were. Or the land was ours before you were a land. Or this land was our land, it was not your land. We were the land before we were people, loamy roamers rising, so the stories go, or formed of clay, spit into with breath reeking soul— the land, not the least vaguely, realizing in all four directions, still storied, art-filled, fully enhanves. Such as she is , such as she will us to become. TANAYA WINDER, Duckwater Shoshone, Southern Ute, Pyramid Lake Paiute the milky way escapes my mouth whenever two lips begin to form your name I cough stars lodged deep within my lungs. They rush f rom tongue weighted in dust, words I didn’t ask I am left stargazing five times a day for years. I can’t navigate my way into understanding light years– how we let darkness slip in. Each night, I open mouth sky-wide to swallow stars and sing to the moon a story about the light of two people who continue to cross and uncross in their falling no matter how unstable in orbit. ROBERT DAVIS HOFFMAN, Tlingit In this place years ago they educated old language out of you, put you in line, in uniform, on your own two feet. They pointed you in the right direction but still you squint at that other place, that country hidden within a country. This is what you know. This is how you move, leaving only a trace of yourself. Years later you meet their qualifications– native scholar. They give you a job, a corner office. Now you’re instructed to remember old language, bring back faded legend, anything that’s left. They keep looking in on you, sideways. You don’t fit here, you no longer fit there. You got sick. They still talk of it, the cheap wine on your breath as you utter in restless sleep what I sketch at your bedside. SHERMAN ALEXIE, Spokane …I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after an Indian woman puts her shoulder to the Grand Coulee Dam and topples it. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters burst each successive dam downriver from the Grand Coulee. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall after the floodwaters find their way to the mouth of the Columbia River as it enters the Pacific and causes all of it to rise. I am told by many of you that I must forgive and so I shall when I am dancing with my tribe during the powwow at the end of the world. BRANDY NĀLANI MCDOUGALL, Kanaka Maoli, Hawaii Think of all the lost words, still unspoken, waiting to be given use, again, claimed, or for newly born words to unburden them of their meanings. There are winds and rains who have lost their names, descending the slopes of every mountain, each lush valley’s mouth, and the songs of birds English could never replace the land’s unfolding song, nor the ocean’s ancient oli, giving us use again. SIMON ORTIZ, Acoma I don’t know if my feet can make it; my soul is where it has always been; my heart is staggering somewhere in between. LESLIE MARMON SILKO, Laguna Long time ago in the beginning there were no white people in this world there was nothing European. And this world might have gone on like that except for one thing: witchery. These witch people got together. Some came from far far away across oceans across mountains. They all got together for a contest the way people have baseball tournaments nowadays except this was a contest in dark things. The contest started like that. Then some of them lifted the lids on their big cooking pots, calling the rest of them over to take a look Others untied skin bundles of disgusting objects: dark flints, cinders from burning hogans where the dead lay Finally there was only one who hadn’t shown off charms or powers. The witch stood in the shadows beyond the fire and no one ever knew where this witch came from which tribe or if it was a woman or a man. “What I have is a story.” Caves across the ocean in caves of dark hills white skin people like the belly of a fish covered with hair. Then they grow away from the earth then they grow away from the sun then they grow away from the plants and animals. They see no life. When they look they see only objects. The world is a dead thing for them the trees and rivers are not alive the mountains and stones are not alive. The deer and the bear are objects. They see no life. They fear they fear the world. They destroy what they fear. They fear themselves. The wind will blow them across the ocean thousands of them in giant boats swarming like larva out of a crushed ant hill. They will carry objects which can shoot death faster than the eye can see. They will kill the things they fear. They will poison the water they will spin the water away and there will be drought the people will starve. They will fear what they find. They will fear the people. They will kill what they fear. Entire villages will be wiped out. They will slaughter whole tribes. Killing killing killing killing. And those they do not kill will die anyway at the destruction they see at the loss at the loss of the children the loss will destroy the rest. Stolen rivers and mountains the stolen land will eat their hearts They will bring terrible diseases the people have never known. Entire tribes will die out covered with festering sores shitting blood vomiting blood. They will take this world from ocean to ocean They will turn on each other They will destroy each other Up here In these hills They will find the rocks Rocks with veins of green and yellow and black. They will lay it across the world And explode everything. REX LEE JIM, Dine’ Ahóyéel’áágóó honishłǫ́ Yiską́ągo’ honishłǫ́ Dííjį́ honishłǫ́ Adą́´dą́ą́ honishłǫ́ Hodeeyáádą́ą́’ honishłǫ́ Saad shí nishłį́ Saad diyinii shí nishłį́ Saad diyinii díí shí nishłį́ I value different ways of living I value different ways of doing I value different soft goods I value different hard goods These are reasons why I gave myself over to the earth surface people A holy people A respected people A compassionate people When I sound from within them, Without falling apart, life ceaselessly expands These are reasons why I gave myself over to the earth surface people Voice I am Sacred voice I am Sacred voice this I am CASANDRA LÓPEZ, Cahuilla/Tongva, Luiseno My words are always collapsing upon themselves, too tight in my mouth. I want a new language. One with at least 50 words for grief and 50 words for love, so I can offer them to the living who mourn the dead. Ocean is the mouth of summer. Our shell fingers drive into sand, searching–we find tiny silver sand crabs, we scoop and scoop till we bore and go in search of tangy seaweed. We are salted sun. How we brown to earth. Our warm flesh flowering. In this new language our bones say sun and sea, reminding us of an old language our mouths have forgotten, but our marrow remembers.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)

    I haven’t picked up one of the Norton anthologies since my undergrad studies, but when I saw this Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo (with Leanne Howe, Jennifer Elise Foerster and contributing editors) I was immediately on my library website reserving a copy! In opening the text, Harjo’s introduction notes the significance of this anthology: “We have always been here, beneath the surface of American poetic consciousness, and have questioned how there can be an American poetry without our v I haven’t picked up one of the Norton anthologies since my undergrad studies, but when I saw this Native Nations poetry edited by Joy Harjo (with Leanne Howe, Jennifer Elise Foerster and contributing editors) I was immediately on my library website reserving a copy! In opening the text, Harjo’s introduction notes the significance of this anthology: “We have always been here, beneath the surface of American poetic consciousness, and have questioned how there can be an American poetry without our voices.” The collection spans four centuries and represents more than ninety nations, and the poems are organized into five geographical regions: “We employed the Muskogean directional path, which begins East to North and continues to the West and then to the South.” There were many writers whose works I have on my shelves here that I enjoyed reading more from in this anthology—particularly Joy Harjo, Natalie Diaz and Louise Erdrich (some of which are pictured)—and found many more new-to-me authors including Nila Northsun and Layli Long Soldier. I really benefited from the structure of this anthology, and loved being able to see the connections between works thematically and stylistically and in form.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Julie

    I love reading poetry to settle my mind, but this collection also expanded my understanding of native cultures and perspectives. The works are incredibly diverse in time period, language, tone, and style, and I am so thankful for all the work that went into creating this anthology.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rebecca

    I've renewed this as many times as the library would let me, but it still doesn't feel like enough! This is a beautiful collection of Native Nations poetry. It includes poets from the 1600s through today. The poetry is sorted into basic American geography, like "Northeast and Midwest", "Plains and Mountains," etc. Here are a couple of my favorite lines from a couple of my favorite poems: Chrystos, "The Real Indian Leans Against" "I want turkeys to keep their feathers & the non-feathered variety to s I've renewed this as many times as the library would let me, but it still doesn't feel like enough! This is a beautiful collection of Native Nations poetry. It includes poets from the 1600s through today. The poetry is sorted into basic American geography, like "Northeast and Midwest", "Plains and Mountains," etc. Here are a couple of my favorite lines from a couple of my favorite poems: Chrystos, "The Real Indian Leans Against" "I want turkeys to keep their feathers & the non-feathered variety to shut up I want to bury these Indians dressed like cartoons of our long dead I want to live somewhere where nobody is sold." Kimberly Wensaut, "Prodigal Daughter" "Home is elusive. It shapeshifts with the currents of my heart and its will. Home is a trickster changing according to the medicine of the season and its lesson." Moses Jumper Jr, "Simplicity" "The long, graceful jumps of the sleek, green frog, The short, choppy hops of the lumpy toad, The agileness and grace of the otter, The awkward wing flapping of the crane.... I saw all these things, and many more, and I know they were right."

  6. 4 out of 5

    James

    Edited by U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo, this Norton anthology of Native Nations poetry is long overdue but a masterpiece. More than 160 poets from more than 100 different indigenous nations are represented in an anthology that covers over a hundred years of written poetry, rich in tradition from centuries before. At times heartbreaking and infuriating, the poems do not shy away from the historical treatment of native peoples but do find hope and affirmation. Highly recommended.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jeimy

    This Norton Anthology took me back to my undergrad years studying American Lit! After reading a digital ARC, I ordered the paperback for my classroom collection and was pleased to note that the pages were not made from onion paper... That would have really been a throwback to my university years. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo edited this collection which seems comprehensive, but falls short when you think how much heftier the tome would be if it contained the poems created by the colonizers. However, s This Norton Anthology took me back to my undergrad years studying American Lit! After reading a digital ARC, I ordered the paperback for my classroom collection and was pleased to note that the pages were not made from onion paper... That would have really been a throwback to my university years. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo edited this collection which seems comprehensive, but falls short when you think how much heftier the tome would be if it contained the poems created by the colonizers. However, since most people are unaware of the existence of these poets and their traditions, the fact that a book like this is finally in print is a triumph. It must also be said that the Native Nations have a rich oral tradition and this may contribute to the fact that not many poems were written down. The collection itself is divided into geographical regions and organized chronologically among each region. As one delves into the poetry certain themes connect poems from each region and, when comparing regions, through historic periods. I am ashamed that I only knew a handful of the poets included in this collection and am glad that Harjo and her fellow editors took on this endeavor and that Norton decided to publish it. There is a Renaissance when it comes to the culture of the Native Nations and we owe it to ourselves to learn what our schools failed to teach you avoid their rich and varied history, traditions, and art forms.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Brian Passey

    This wonderfully comprehensive collection of Native Nations poems spans centuries and includes indigenous poets from across the continental United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa. While some focus on traditional poetic subject matter like nature, many speak to the realities of modern rez life and loss of culture. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I came away from it with a list of 20 or so Native poets whose work I want to further explore. I also suggest re This wonderfully comprehensive collection of Native Nations poems spans centuries and includes indigenous poets from across the continental United States as well as Alaska, Hawaii, Guam, and American Samoa. While some focus on traditional poetic subject matter like nature, many speak to the realities of modern rez life and loss of culture. It’s beautiful and heartbreaking all at once. I came away from it with a list of 20 or so Native poets whose work I want to further explore. I also suggest reading it alongside or adjacent to “Braiding Sweetgrass.”

  9. 5 out of 5

    Aimee

    Does not go deep into each poet, but it is comprehensive; a short bio and 2-3 pinnacle poems for each writer. It's broken up by geographic region, and includes a thorough table of contents with titles of poem and names of poets (in other words, there are multiple ways to search). This should be an equal addition to all English literature courses alongside any of the traditional Norton Anthologies. A beautiful addition to the American literature canon. Does not go deep into each poet, but it is comprehensive; a short bio and 2-3 pinnacle poems for each writer. It's broken up by geographic region, and includes a thorough table of contents with titles of poem and names of poets (in other words, there are multiple ways to search). This should be an equal addition to all English literature courses alongside any of the traditional Norton Anthologies. A beautiful addition to the American literature canon.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Janine

    Like all collections, some of the poems spoke to more than others. Some grabbed me and wouldn’t let go, some were good. They range from funny to enraged. I appreciate the brief biographies of each poet, they really show the diversity of the authors. I also liked how they were arranged geographically. I started with the region where I live and those poems resonated with me. Overall a beautiful offering.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Matt Miles

    This breathtakingly expansive volume grasps at memory, champions voices against the efforts of many to silence, paints the necessity of the natural world, speaks to personal and collective histories, mocks where mockery is needed, and sees every grief and beauty life has to offer. Every poem in this collection is a treasure.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Kate

    First book of the year! I don't often read poetry so it was a new and different experience. In general I think this is a fantastic anthology done in a really thoughtful manner - readers get to read poetry that spans centuries and provides a lot of cultural commentary and reflection by Native poets. First book of the year! I don't often read poetry so it was a new and different experience. In general I think this is a fantastic anthology done in a really thoughtful manner - readers get to read poetry that spans centuries and provides a lot of cultural commentary and reflection by Native poets.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Juli Anna

    This is a wonderful collection full of wide-ranging voices and traditions. I discovered quite a few new poets here whose work I can't wait to dig into. This is a wonderful collection full of wide-ranging voices and traditions. I discovered quite a few new poets here whose work I can't wait to dig into.

  14. 5 out of 5

    cubierocks

    Really spectacular - required reading.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kaz

    Great poetry anthology of indigenous authors. Read mainly the works of North West Coast authors.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Roma

    A collection of poems, some beautiful, some painful, all moving.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Doris Raines

    NICE BOOK.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Julie Clark

  19. 4 out of 5

    Strider Jones

  20. 5 out of 5

    Rachael Sutherland

  21. 5 out of 5

    Rea Scott

  22. 4 out of 5

    Crystal

  23. 5 out of 5

    Brooke Nind

  24. 5 out of 5

    Marriah Foley

  25. 4 out of 5

    Annah

  26. 4 out of 5

    Lynne

  27. 4 out of 5

    Jes

  28. 5 out of 5

    Jessie McMains

  29. 5 out of 5

    Newton

  30. 4 out of 5

    Dennis Jacob

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