U.S. Poet Laureate: Natasha Tretheway

Several years ago I had the opportunity to meet Rita Dove, former U.S. Poet Laureate. And while I don’t own many poetry books, nor do I read much poetry, being in her presence was a big deal (to say the least). While reviewing old bookmarks for potential blog posts, I noticed that I never mentioned anything about the 2012-13 U.S. Poet Laureate, Natasha Trethewey.

Trethewey is the state laureate for Mississippi and U.S. Laureate, the first to ever hold two titles at once. She is also a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, a Pulitzer Prize winner, the author of several poetry collections and a non-fiction book on Katrina. But before I post a poem or talk any more about Trethewey, I had to do a little research on exactly what it means to be a Poet Laureate. Well, in conjunction with the receipt of a $35,000 annual stipend (plus $5,000 for travel), the author has the freedom to bask in creative projects and organize fiction/poetry readings, conferences, lectures—and well, you know, he/she does all sorts of scholarly things for the Library of Congress. I hope I got that right. For more information on how Poet Lauretes are selected, visit the Library of Congress blog.

While the official title has changed over the years, 4 African Americans have held the title of “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry” and “Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress.” These authors include Robert Hayden, Gwendolyn Brooks, Rita Dove, and more recently, Natasha Trethewey (who is biracial). My initial exposure to Tretheway came a few years ago from a buddy in school who always mentioned her greatness in comparison to what he wanted to achieve with his own work. When he would go into his rants, I’d always wonder, who is this chick and does my ignorance mean I need to read more poetry? Probably so. Anyway, in case you’re just as ignorant, here’s a poem from the collection Native Guard by Natasha Tretheway:

Incident

We tell the story every year—
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn—
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again.
We peered from the windows, shades drawn,
at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
the charred grass still green. Then
we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps.
At the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
a few men gathered, white as angels in their gowns.
We darkened our rooms and lit hurricane lamps,
the wicks trembling in their fonts of oil.
It seemed the angels had gathered, white men in their gowns.
When they were done, they left quietly. No one came.
The wicks trembled all night in their fonts of oil;
by morning the flames had all dimmed.
When they were done, the men left quietly. No one came.
Nothing really happened.
By morning all the flames had dimmed.
We tell the story every year.

The news is late, but since Trethewey is Poet Laurete through 2013, maybe it’s right on time. Happy reading, y’all!

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