Edit Module
Edit Module
2018 Fall Arts Guide

The Ancestral Poet

The first collected edition of Natasha Trethewey’s work serves as a tribute to those who came before her.

Published Sept. 24, 2018

After her mother, a black social worker from Mississippi, was murdered by her second husband in 1985, Natasha Trethewey, then 19, turned to poetry as a way to grieve. A few years later, while she was working on her master’s at the University of Massachusetts, one of her poetry professors, a prominent faculty member, told Trethewey it was time to write about something else. “What he said fully,” she remembers, “was that I should ‘unburden’ myself of being black and from the death of my mother.”

Trethewey promptly ignored the advice, and it might have been the best decision she’s made. She went on to win a Pulitzer for Native Guard, a 2006 collection that draws largely from personal experience, and serve two terms as U.S. poet laureate. Having spent most of her life in Atlanta, Trethewey moved to Evanston in the spring to teach at Northwestern. “My great-uncles and -aunts came to Chicago during the Great Migration, and my mother spent her last year of high school here, so it felt right.”

Even with her success, it’s taken decades for the 52-year-old to have a collected edition published. Monument: Poems New and Selected includes work from five previous books, spanning from 2000 to 2012, plus a breathtaking coda of 11 new pieces. “I was trying to create a lasting, lyrical monument — a monument in words,” Trethewey says, “not only to those black Civil War soldiers for whom no monuments had been erected, but also to my mother.”

In 84 poems, Monument tells the story of her mother, her father, her grandmother, and her ancestors in the South. The final piece, “Articulation,” sheds light on why a certain professor’s advice was so impossible to follow: “Three weeks gone, my mother came to me / in a dream,” and later, “And how could I not — bathed in the light / of her wound — find my calling there?”

Edit Module

Share

Edit Module
Edit Module
Submit your comment

Comments are moderated. We review them in an effort to remove foul language, commercial messages, abuse, and irrelevancies.