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

Inspirational Poe

As a young writer, though I didn’t realize it at the time, I was completely enamored and thus shaped by the works of Edgar Allan Poe. I took on a full understanding of a poem for the first time through his poem, “Alone”. I chose to interpret this poem for a speech class I had freshman year and, from the seemingly random personal connection I stumbled upon, I felt less fearful of my own emotions I deemed irrelevant or too difficult to understand. From there, I bought a full collection of his work and even wrote several pieces in his characteristically dark and dramatic manner. I believe Poe to be the reason I was able to convert my understanding of poetry from the need to rhyme to the need to express emotion that is so honest it reflects the overall human condition and allows solace in such.

The influence of Poe has carried over into my junior year of high school as well. Junior year being a year known to be targeted by college officials looking over transcripts, academics have gained the ability to encroach on my writing life. This only led to a substantial drain upon inspiration to write and, even more dramatically, a drain upon my desire to put effort into understanding my emotions enough to put them in complex, thoughtful writing. I again reconnected to Poe when we were given several copies of his pieces to read in a writing class, one of the pieces being “The Raven”. It was not until this year that I was aware of my ability to connect and find even deeper understanding in pieces due to an accumulation of past experiences since my first connection to an artist like Poe. Therefore, the meaning of Poe’s heavier works became much more complex and interesting to me. In this, Poe once again fortified my need to write.

Most memorably, the piece that I produced intentionally drawn from the work of Poe was a piece I did not submit for any classes I had. Rather, I just sat down and wrote in a notebook a poem that came from the heart instead of a prompt. It came from a connection as well as a need to sort through the complications I had been facing then. The poem was not exactly grounded in the way that Poe does, but it was honest and one of the few things I’ve crafted that I feel connected to as I know it is not something I’d want others to read. I realize that it has potential to be shared and understood, but I feel that comfort with that level of publicity of self is something i still need to work on. Again, Poe can serve as a role model for this as well. Though I’m not quite a complete expert on the actions of Poe in his mental process of publication, I still recognize that he put himself in his work and chose to put it out into the world at one point or another. I wish to follow my own footsteps, of course, but it’s always good to have a guiding inspiration to look to ahead.

Kathryn Wallis, Junior Art Editor

The Little Things

Billy Collins has always been on of my biggest inspirations as a poet. I discovered in my freshman year of highschool and at first I didn’t really like him. Actually, I didn’t really like any poets but I remember one Christmas morning my grandpa handed me a small stack of poetry books. He told me he knew I was having trouble with my poetry and he saw these at a garage sale for a few dollars and thought they might help. Stuck in between Robert Hass and Yeats was a book by Collins. I think the cover attracted me more than the actual poetry did.

I didn’t really touch the books for about a month or so, until one day I was assigned to write about poem. Poetry was terrifying to me, I thought it was way to over my head for me to even consider being a poet. So I turned to the small stack of books that had been collecting dust silently on my desk. I reached for the Collins book and flipped through, until one poem stuck out to me. It was about yellow bathtub ducks he’d found in a drug store one night. Don’t ask me why I liked this poem so much because I wouldn’t really have an answer for you. But that one poem opened something for me. Pretty soon I started seeing the beauty in all of his poem.

The simplistic language, the beautiful imagery, the emotions I found hidden in each sentence. Collins isn’t the type of writer to write directly about his emotions. He always finds an image or an action to zone in one and he makes you feel it for yourself, instead of describing it. And I can tell you now, that for someone who hates talking about her feelings or sharing any type of personal information with stranger, this type of technique really intrigues me.

In a lot of ways Collins opened the door to the poetry world and sort made me see that not everything has to be complicated pros and metaphors that nobody understands. It was be simple, pleasant. You don’t have to rip through your emotional conscious or tear apart traumatic memories to get a good poem. Sometimes you can just write about the rain drops of a window or yellow bathtub ducks you find in a drug store.

Sometime when I’m sitting in front of my computer not being able to come up with anything, I’ll feel that fear inside of me. That fear that I’ll never be able to write poetry the way I’m “supposed” too, but Collins always finds a way to remind me that there will never be a specific way to write poetry. You write what you feel, what you see, what you experience. You write your truth.

Sierra Lunsford, Web Editor