Joy Harjo on the Power of Poetry, and on Building a Comprehensive Canon of Indigenous Poems – Chicago Review of Books

“It is poetry that holds the songs of becoming, of change, of dreaming, and it is poetry we turn to when we travel those places of transformation, like birth, coming of age, marriage, accomplishments, and death. We sing our children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren: our human experience in time, into and through existence.” So begins the anthology When the Light of the World Was Subdued, Our Songs Came Through, the first comprehensive anthology of Native Poetry, edited by Poet Laureate Joy Harjo. 

Included within this landmark anthology are hundreds of poems dating from the 17th century to the present, representing close to 600 Indigenous tribal nations in the United States mainland, Alaska, and the Pacific Island territories. The anthology’s historical and geographic arcs celebrate Indigenous poetry in all its forms—oratory, song, ritual—and bring together the lived and diverse histories of our nation’s first peoples. 

I recently talked with Joy Harjo about her experience assembling this anthology, her hopes for the image of Indigenous poetry, and the value of poetry in the present. 
— Read on