Natasha Trethewey Native Guard: Poems

ISBN 13: 9780618872657

Native Guard: Poems

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9780618872657: Native Guard: Poems

Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey's resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

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About the Author:

NATASHA TRETHEWEY is the current U.S. Poet Laureate and is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. Native Guard, her third collection of poetry, received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was published in 2010. A new collection of poetry, Thrall, is forthcoming in September.

From The Washington Post:

The frontispiece of Natasha Trethewey's Native Guard informs me she was born in Gulfport, Miss., that her mother was black and her father white. Reasonable deduction (assuming the "I" of the poems is the poet) tells me that, in her formative years, issues pertaining to her biracial heritage were exacerbated by Mississippi's legacy of oppression -- its dark, buried history. In a region struggling to confront its past, how was a young poet supposed to learn to accept who she was?

Trethewey's personal dilemma must have been awkward, full of tangled emotions and memorable embarrassments. It's the kind of background that has humbled many people into silence. And yet, for the purposes of literature, aren't these kinds of growing pains priceless? We should probably envy this poet's peculiar destiny. Not only has Trethewey chosen speech rather than silence, she has chosen to express herself in verse. Given her material, she could easily write essays or a memoir. But she has a genuine gift for verse forms, and the depth of her engagement in language marks her as a true poet.

In Native Guard, Trethewey traces the buried history of the South to the point where her personal narrative begins. "In 1965, my parents broke two laws of Mississippi;/ they went to Ohio to marry, returned to Mississippi," begins a ghazal (a poem in two-line stanzas linked by a rhyme scheme) titled "Miscegenation." "My Mother Dreams of Another Country" jumps ahead to Trethewey's birth year and depicts her mother's distress: "This is 1966 -- she is married to a white man -- / and there are more names for what grows inside her./ It is enough to worry about words like mongrel/ and the infertility of mules and mulattoes."

The title poem is a 10-sonnet sequence in which the last line of each sonnet becomes a variant of the subsequent sonnet's opening line, creating a lovely, wreathlike effect. The graceful form conceals a gritty subject. "Native Guard" is a first-person narrative of an unnamed ex-slave who has joined the Union army to serve in an all-black regiment. The lines have a stately, chiming perfection. The circular form mirrors the bizarre circularity of circumstance that finds the narrator -- once a slave -- now guarding Confederates who have been captured and imprisoned inside the Union fort at Ship Island, Miss. The narrator compares his life in bondage to his life as a military officer, guarding the fallen rebels:

I now use ink to keep record, a closed book, not the lure of memory -- flawed, changeful -- that dulls the lash for the master, sharpens it for the slave.

For the slave, having a master sharpens the bend into work, the way the sergeant moves us now to perfect battalion drill, dress parade.

Trethewey doesn't try to reproduce the way this character would actually speak. Whereas many poets would have spiced his monologue with dialect, she doesn't. Though a former slave, he is literate; he writes letters for his fellow soldiers. "I listen, put down in ink what I know/ they labor to say between silences." Trethewey gives her narrator a literary voice -- the voice of a 19th-century writer practiced in the diction and oratory of his time, of Frederick Douglass's masterful autobiographies, a voice that echoes the rhythms of great Western poetry.

Trethewey has a gift for squeezing the contradictions of the South into very tightly controlled lines. A certain staid, formal approach is both her strength and the only possible grounds I have to criticize her poetry. Native Guard is a small book, containing mostly short poems, a few of which read like exercises. When poets find their voices, form and content intermesh seamlessly. One can still see Trethewey's technique and feel the influence of poetry workshops. One feels a bit let down when a poem sets up an interesting emotional crisis, then resolves it almost too quickly. One feels at times as though her poems are succinct for the sake of making them work, rather than fulfilling either the poet's memory of her experience or the reader's heightened expectations.

Trethewey's style is reserved, even cautious, though her subjects are emotionally charged, even violent. This creates an interesting dichotomy, especially in poems such as "Pastoral" with its touchy image of Trethewey confronting the great white Southern poets -- Allen Tate, Robert Penn Warren and others -- while in blackface. Though this is her third book, Trethewey is still perfecting her voice and may have only scratched the surface of her remarkable talent.

Reviewed by Darryl Lorenzo Wellington
Copyright 2006, The Washington Post. All Rights Reserved.

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Book Description Cengage Learning, Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 206 x 137 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780618872657

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Book Description Cengage Learning, Inc, United States, 2007. Paperback. Book Condition: New. 206 x 137 mm. Language: English . Brand New Book. Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South -- where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history. Bookseller Inventory # ABZ9780618872657

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Book Description Softcover. Book Condition: New. Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards -- one of the Union's first official black units. Trethewey's new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life.The title poem imagines the life of a former slave stationed at the fort, who is charged with writing letters home for the illiterate or invalid POWs and his fellow soldiers. Just as he becomes the guard of Ship Island's memory, so Trethewey recalls her own childhood as the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her parents' marriage was still illegal in 1966 Mississippi. The racial legacy of the Civil War echoes through elegiac poems that honor her own mother and the forgotten history of her native South. Native Guard is haunted by the intersection of national and personal experience. Bookseller Inventory # BAA-B-3810223

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