Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Natasha Trethewey at the Palm Beach Poetry Festival

Yesterday I went up to the Palm Beach Poetry Festival to watch an interview with Natasha Trethewey--what a treat!  She'll be doing a traditional poetry reading tonight, but I really wanted to catch her in the interview format.

Last year, I saw a similar event with Billy Collins (see this blog post for details).  I realized that even though I've heard Billy Collins interviewed numerous times, it's great to see it happen in person.

And so I left the sorting of the grad school books for a different day and headed up to Palm Beach.  I didn't have too much traffic--no, that would come later when it took me almost 2 hours to make what should have been a 45 minute trip at most.  I got to the Crest Theatre and went up to the balcony where I got the perfect seat.

I've heard Natasha Trethewey many times on a variety of NPR shows, and I've had the good fortune to go to a poetry reading of hers (see this blog post for more on that reading).  I wasn't expecting the reaction that I had yesterday.

Several times I found myself dissolving into tears.  There was something about the way she talked about history--both her personal history and the larger history of the U.S. (the South, slaves, Katrina) that made me weepy.

I found myself missing various parts of the U.S. South where I've lived.  As Trethewey used quotes from Yeats and O'Connor, I found myself missing grad school, even though I didn't particularly like grad school.  I missed a variety of friends, even though they're still alive, and I could call them up.

Near the end of the interview, Trethewey gave us this Flannery O'Connor quote, which seemed to fit my mood:  "Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it."

To be honest, I had begun the afternoon with a tinge of sadness, as I thought about sorting the grad school books.  The easy sort is long behind me.  Now I'm down to the books which I'll never read again and likely never need again.  But to give them away means that I'm admitting a certain future is never coming my way, that where I thought I was going to was never there.

Usually, I'm perfectly OK with that idea.  After all, I'm not interested in writing academic books about 19th century British Literature that 12 people will read.  And even if I decided that I was interested in that path, I'd need a different set of books by now.  So why is it so hard to let these books go?

I'll sort again, of course.  Out goes Bleak House.  I've kept it so long, because it took me so long to actually finish it.

I'll likely keep some of the works of feminist criticism, although I'm unlikely to need them in an academic way.  I need them on the shelf to remind me, to keep me grounded in some way, and for the simple nostalgic value of them.  I remember buying them when I could scarcely afford them.  I remember the thrill of owning them.  I can't bear to let them go just yet.

At school, our Career Services group has set up a table of free stuff, and it's amazing how quickly the free stuff finds a new home.  I'll start putting out a few books each day and amuse myself by watching how quickly they go.  Yesterday's small, slick book of words of wisdom by Jane Austen was gone in half an hour, as was the book of writing exercises.  I have a lot of creative writing books that will go on that table.

But I digress.  Back to Trethewey.

I watched Natasha Trethewey and felt so happy for her success.  She's doing the Poet Laureate job the way that I think it should be done.  She's moved to D.C., but she's also travelling the country to find out how the country thinks about poetry.

She's got an important message for us:  poetry is far more important to a much wider variety of people than most of us know.

I also felt an emotion akin to envy, although I don't want to take away anything from her.  No, instead I want to believe that I, too, might be poet laureate some day.  So, newly inspired, I'll put together a new collection of poetry in a few weeks, and then I'll think about where to send it.

And I'll try to keep that O'Connor quote in front of me.  I'll try, and try again, and fail, and try some more to be content right where I am, right here in the present.

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