Posted by: jeannineatkins | February 11, 2011

Poetry Friday: Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey a poet who won a Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Native Guard, read and answered some questions at UMass-Amherst Wednesday night. Much of her work addresses how race is perceived in America, and intersections between private and public history. Perhaps half of Native Guard is a series of poems about one of the first black regiments in the Civil War, while much of the rest are family elegies or evocations of her parents’ interracial marriage in 1960’s Mississippi, when that bond was illegal. Natasha Trethewey pointed out that the book’s cover is replica of a nineteenth century diary in which words were written in two directions to save costly paper. Often there are two stories, and one looks easier to read than another.

Asked about inspiration, she alluded to George Orwell’s hope of trying to write a way toward the world you wish to live in. She also writes across time and space, filling in gaps where stories were erased.

Here’s the title poem from her first collection.


All week she’s cleaned

someone else’s house,

stared down her own face

in the shine of copper-

bottomed pots, polished
toilets she’d pull

the lid to – that took saying

Let’s make a change, girl.

But Sunday mornings are hers-

church clothes starched

and hanging, a record spinning

on the console, the whole house

dancing. She raises the shades,

Read the whole poem here:

For more Poetry Friday posts, please visit Carol at Rasco from RIF.



  1. Thanks so much for this, Jeannine. It’s a wonderful poem. I also love the crossed writing on the cover, and the way Trethewey links it to the lives and moments she writes about. I’ve worked with letters like that, and they can be the devil to read, but if you skip the hard part you only get half the story.

  2. You inspired me to write more about some of the poetry books I’ve been reading, so I’m glad you like finding some of those here.
    It can be hard to slow down. Sara Lewis Holmes has a lovely post at Read.Write.Believe today on how much can be gained by focusing on one small thing. We all just keep trying.

  3. Thanks, Amy. I love the look of those letters with lines going different ways, but I don’t envy people who’ve worked with those. Yikes. Bless the transcribers. My multifocals have all they can do with 14 point type.
    There’s such a rich history in these poems. It was a treat to hear her read for an hour poems, many of which I’d read, but sounded new in her voice and in a hall full of rapt listeners.

  4. Thanks, Tara!

  5. Hollins and great writing really go together. Glad I could give a tiny hint of what you missed, and hope you have another chance to hear her.

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