Thursday, July 31, 2014

Thirsty Thursdays: Natasha Trethewey

Appointed the 2012 Poet Laureate of Mississippi and having served two terms as the 19th Poet Laureate of the United States, Pulitzer Prize in Poetry winner Natasha Trethewey's titles speak to her mastery of the poetry genre. Her poems read like snapshots of the South from an era few people like to talk about, an era not too long ago.

Trethewey's background makes her a unique source of literary creation. Born in Mississippi to a mixed-race couple, Trethewey spent her formative years alternating between living with her mother in Georgia and her father in New Orleans. Her experiences in two very distinct Southern settings strongly reflect in her work.

She has four collections of poetry and one creative non-fiction book currently published: 

Full of vivid imagery, Domestic Work (2000) showcases the lives and jobs of black, working-class women and men in the South.

Set in Storyville, New Orleans's infamous re-light district, Bellocq's Ophelia (2002) is the fictitious tale of a mulatto prostitute who poses for photographer E.J. Belocq.

While also featuring elegies to her mother, Trethewey's Native Guard (2006) is composed primarily of sonnets told in the voice of a Civil War-era black soldier who is part of the Native Guard (Corps d'Afrique) supporting the war against the Confederacy.

Thrall (2012) focuses on the dynamic relationship between fathers and their children, specifically those in mixed-race families, through the poetic lens of 18th-century portrait art.

Trethewey alternates her personal experiences growing up in the Gulf South and a chronicle of the destruction caused by the 2005 hurricane in Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast (2010).

Below is the poem "from 'Storyville Diary,' Photography 1911" from Bellocq's Ophelia:

I wear my best silk gown for the picture—
white silk with seed pearls and ostrich feathers—
my hair in a loose chignon. Behind me,
Bellocq’s black scrim just covers the laundry—
tea towels, bleached and frayed, drying on the line.
I look away from his lens to appear
demure, to attract those guests not wanting
the lewd sights of Emma Johnson’s circus.
Countess writes my description for the book—
“Violet,” a fair-skinned beauty, recites
poetry and soliloquies; nightly
she performs her tableau vivant, becomes
a living statue, an object of art—
and I fade again into someone I’m not.

If you enjoy rich poetry full of vivid images that tells a story, that makes you feel something, I strongly suggest you look into Trethewey's work. She is currently the Director of the Creative Writing Program at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Information Sources
NT bio:
"Photography 1911":
Image Sources
NT pic:
Domestic Work:
Bellocq's Ophelia:,204,203,200_.jpg
Native Guard:
Beyond Katrina:

No comments: