A New Poet Laureate by Rebecca Foresman for The New Yorker, June 10, 2012
Natasha Trethewey, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the collection “Native Guard,” was named U.S. Poet Laureate last Wednesday. Her poetic voice has deftly positioned her to inherit the laureate tradition and usher it into the future. Trethewey’s writing mines the cavernous isolation, brutality, and resilience of African American history, tracing its subterranean echoes to today.
Her poem, “Native Guard,” for example, draws its title and narrative focus from the so-called Union Army regiment of black soldiers, primarily liberated slaves, who watched over Confederate prisoners of war. Trethewey, in an agile shift from poetry to prose, past to present, and national to personal history, continues her investigation of race relations in her non-fiction book, “Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast.” Here, Trethewey applies an autobiographical lens to the vertiginous power dynamics and fractured identity politics of being black in America. She delves into her memories of childhood as the daughter of an interracial marriage, deemed illegal under Mississippi law at the time of her parents’ union.