32 pages 1 hour read

Joy Harjo

An American Sunrise

Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 2017

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Literary Devices

Inverted Acrostic Form

The acrostic form is a poem that spells a message with the beginning letter of each line. However, in this poem, Harjo takes that concept and inverts it by designating the final word of each line in a way that creates a rewritten version of Gwendolyn Brooks’s famous poem “We Real Cool.” The poem, in its entirety, reads as follows:

“We real cool. We
Left school. We

Lurk late. We
Strike straight. We

Sing sin. We
Thin gin. We

Jazz June. We
Die soon.”

The majority of Brooks’s words can also be found in other parts of Harjo’s poem (not only in the ending of lines), creating a dialogue between the two. For more on this, see the Golden Shovel entry.


Although this poem doesn’t utilize a full anaphoric form (i.e., the repetition at the beginning of every line isn’t consistent), there is definite repetition of the word “we” to start—and to end—many of the lines in this poem. This recycling of the word to begin sentences and to end lines helps to emphasize the shared communal aspect that is integral to this poem: we. The repetition of this word also sets up the powerful twist in the final line, in which the “we” becomes “They die / soon.