Natasha Trethewey’s Poetry Dragged a Portfolio Out of Me

The clean lines of her newest, most popular poetry book were so soft in the palms of my hands that it almost felt like a crime when I stained it with my black ballpoint pen. Every word was so meaningful to me that I book marked several poems with big blocks around a whole stanza, or sometimes a whole poem would be sectioned. There are dozens of little brightly colored Post Its hanging on to the edge of pages, like bookmarks for me to find my most favorite lines or poems without having to bend the neat pages back.

I was assigned Natasha Trethewey for a poetry project but if I’m honest, I think Natasha Trethewey assigned me to herself. What I mean by this is that I felt like she took over my life when I was supposed to be investigating hers and learning about her work. Trethewey may as well be a doctor because she brought back to life my poetry. Its an experience reading her work, like sitting the bed of your parents and letting the pillows sink beneath your weight.

Every poem I read in Natasha Trethewey’s book, “Native Guard”, was like a heart to heart with her. There were lines, like “My back to my mother, leaving her where she lay.” in Graveyard Blues shattered me. The whole book left me breathless, almost like she had bloomed a flower of faith in me. A line like that, one that it’s honesty is more important than making the reader feels something artificial, is the line I starve for when I read poetry.

Let’s examine these lines; “For the slave, having a master sharpens / the bend into work, the way the sergeant / moves us now to perfect battalion drill, / dress parade.” Absorb this, understand that these lines came from a poem about the black soldiers who fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War. This poem, titled Native Guard is basically a journal entry of one of these soldiers. Natasha Trethewey created a book of poetry that one of the Pulitzer Prize and moved my heart back into its rightful poetry state.

She was the Poet Laureate of the United States from 2012-2014 because of her poems on racism and family conformation. She changed the face of poetry in the US with her elegiac verse. Natasha Trethewey opened a world for me all about her and the life of African Americans. Her personal experience made me think of every moment in my life similar to hers. Whenever I feel like my poetry is running its head into the sand, I flip through Native Guard and read poems like “Myth,” “At Dusk,” “The Southern Crescent,” and “My Mother Dreams Another Country.” Her poems lift me from whatever rut I’m in and make me feel like my brain is growing bigger and bigger.

Valerie Busto, Creative Non-Fiction/Fiction Editor