Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Have you heard of Natasha Trethewey?  If not, you should.  She is a contemporary poet doing great things with word, image, and form.  Her Native Guard (2006) won the Pulitzer Prize, and I just got around to reading the full collection today during my anti-office hours at home while the rain came steadily down.  I have had the pleasure of hearing Trethewey speak several times at the Conference on Southern Literature, and when I say she has a commanding presence, I hope you'll believe me.  If not, click here to hear her read "Miscegenation," one of the poems in this fine collection.  Her most recent publication is a memoir called Beyond Katrina, and she has a new book due out next fall.

This collection is divided into three sections.  The first focuses on the author's mother, the second on portions of our nation's (and specifically Mississippi's) history, and the third provides a melange of poems about the south and a broader view of race and society.  There are many fine moments (including "Miscegenation" read by the author at the link above), and a few others I might quibble over, but Trethewey remains an important voice in American poetry today. 

I think my favorite of this set is "Southern Crescent," found in the first section.  It provides a beautiful reflection on family, identity, and memory, and the final lines still echo in my hearing.  "Myth" is a stunner of an effort - a palindrom-esque poem, where the last nine lines are the same as the first nine, except in reverse order.  It provides a thoughtful effect, a weight to each line that is unexpected at first reading of it.  I also like the indictment present in "Southern History," which concludes with:

History, the teacher said, of the old South -

a true account of how things were back then.
On screen a slave stood big as life: big mouth,

bucked eyes, our textbook's grinning proof - a lie
my teacher guarded.  Silent, so did I.
It has a quiet force; she is a quiet force.  Please acquaint yourself to her work and her voice.

ps: If you are paying attention to the photo above, you'll see that I have something up my sleeve regarding this book.  Perhaps at some point, I'll report on the result of such a crazy action.  


  1. Wow, this sounds fantastic. I'm going to have to check out her work. Thanks for the great review!