cover image Catching the Light

Catching the Light

Joy Harjo. Yale Univ, $18 (128p) ISBN 978-0-300-25703-8

Memoir, poetry, and criticism come together in this slim but potent treatise on “the why of writing poetry” from Harjo (Poet Warrior: A Memoir). Arranged into 50 vignettes (one for each of Harjo’s 50 years as a published poet), the collection shows how writing “can be useful as a tool for finding the way into or through the dark.” For Harjo, that darkness includes the papal bulls that declared “indigenous peoples as non-humans” and the history of manifest destiny, which led to mass displacement and genocide: “Indigenous artists must be part of the leadership in the revision of the American story,” she writes. Harjo also reflects on the start of her poetry career when she was a full-time student and single mother of two; the despair that accompanied Donald Trump’s presidency (“When the despot ineptly sought to turn the country to a totalitarian nightmare, where was poetry?”); the ravages of the Covid-19 pandemic; and her first encounters with literature: reading the Bible, “the only book in our home.” Her musings on the “story we call ‘America’ ” hit home, and her enduring message—that writing can be redemptive—resonates: “To write is to make a mark in the world, to assert ‘I am.’ ” The result is a rousing testament to the power of storytelling. (Oct.)