Friday, June 8, 2012

Natasha Trethewey: Poet Laureate

I am SO thrilled to hear that Natasha Trethewey will be our next poet laureate.  How many ways am I thrilled?  Let's see, she's my age, 46, when the last several poet laureates have been into their 80's.  Nothing wrong with being older, of course.  But how wonderful to have a younger poet laureate, my generation!  In fact, I think she's the youngest poet laureate ever.

Let us now play what I call the Norton Anthology game.  When I got my first Norton Anthology of American Lit, I looked at the birth years of all the living poets.  They had all been born long before me.  I suspect that now, there might be one or two born after me.  I'm not brave enough to look anymore.

But back to Natasha Trethewey.  Not only is she younger, but she's female.  She's biracial (her father was Caucasion, her mother African-American) and from the U.S. South.  Our first Southern poet laureate,  since Robert Penn Warren, unless you count Rita Dove, who has lived in the South for many years.

And she's a fabulous poet.  Breathtaking.  Native Guard is one of my all-time favorite books of poetry.

Longtime readers of this blog may remember my blog post about Natasha's Trethewey's February 2010 reading at Broward College.  I remember more for the question and answer period afterwards as for her reading, which was fabulous in and of itself.

I asked her how she put together her book Native Guard, which weaves poems of Civil War soldiers together so seamlessly with poems about her mother's death.  Here's what I wrote 2 years ago:
"She said that she was working on poems about her experience of growing up the child of a mixed race marriage in the South and on poems about the black soldiers, often forgotten and nameless, of the Civil War. She said she didn't realize at first that her book would also include poems about the loss of her mother.

She recounted an experience where she was running through a cemetery near her Georgia house, and she could almost hear ancient voices talking to her. She talked about the end of the poem, "Graveyard Blues," the couplet that talks about her mother's headstone. She talked about that poem coming to her in a rush, and that the end is a fiction, that she wrote it even as she realized that her mother had no headstone. She realized that her mother was just as lost and nameless as those black, Union soldiers. And thus, she realized how the poems all worked together."

Much as I love Natasha Trethewey, I wouldn't want to be the person who has to decide on the one person who should hold the post of poet laureate.  We live in an amazing poetry time.  It would be tough to decide on just one person to honor.

I pondered this fact as I read this article about Natasha Trethewey in The New York Times:

"In a phone interview explaining his choice James Billington, the librarian of Congress, said: 'We’re not necessarily on some kick to find a younger poet. The more I read of it, American poetry seems extremely rich in diversity, talent and freedom of expression, and she has a voice that is already original and accomplished. I have an affinity for American individuals who are absolutely unique, and I think that this is one.'

He first became aware of Ms. Trethewey (pronounced TRETH-eh-way) when she gave a reading at the National Book Festival in 2004: 'I admired the way she had a certain classical sound but also moved easily from traditional forms to free verse. And then when I began reading her poems for myself, that impression was just confirmed. It seemed very natural, all of a piece.' He added: 'I go to a fair number of poetry readings, and I’m not always motivated to go back and read the poems. But in her case I was.'

Indeed.  And now, maybe a whole nation will be inspired to read her poems.

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