University’s poet-in-residence presents work

By Olesya Minina

Contributing Writer

The University’s poet-in-residence for the spring semester presented readings from her past as well as new collections of works, which drew from issues such as identity, race mixing, African American hardships, sorrow and heritage on Tuesday at the Stadler Center for Poetry in Bucknell Hall.

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi to a white father and black mother. Her poems reveal the African American struggle for freedom that illuminate the “fraught aspects of America’s past” which are also a “present talisman against forgetting.”

Tretheway opened her emotionally-charged reading with two poems from her 2007 Pultizer Prize winning poetry collection “Native Guard” (2006). In these first two readings, Trethewey spoke on issues of heritage and identity change and said there is an “impossibility of returning home” because we change forever and “home is not the same.”

She also captivated listeners with graphic poems that expressed grief and sorrow pertaining to the poet’s personal experiences, such as her mother’s death and close relationship with her father.

“Trethewey’s gorgeous Pulitzer book ‘Native Guard,’ which I love, contains beautiful formal virtuosity combined with heartbreaking cultural and personal gravitas in relation to her mother,” said Saundra Morris, Professor of English.

The rest of the readings came from the poet’s working collection “Thrall.” Many of the poems were inspired by the Spanish Colonial art that emphasized race mixing and the hardships and identity questions that stem from being an individual being “mixed.”

The colonial paintings, which displayed people of mixed race and their families, combined “image and language together” which inspired Trethewey to write about different skin “tints” and the identity struggle that people of mixed races feel due to the burdens of “taxonomy.”

This aspect also refers to the mixed African Americans and their struggle for identity, which Threthewey also vividly presented to the audience in some of her readings.

“Tretheway’s combination of imagery, history and personal experiences were truly inspiring and moving,” Elizabeth Ziebarth ’14 said.

Trethewey concluded her emotional and diverse readings with detailed poems of sorrow and reminiscence of her close relationship with her father and a unexpected poem of the unique relationship between a reader and a slightly annotated book found in a library.

President John Bravman was in attendance at the reading.

“Natasha Trethewey provided a stunning reminder of the power of language. Her evocations moved me deeply, and some of her words will never be forgotten. It’s a privilege to have someone of Trethewey’s stature visiting Bucknell. I was thrilled to see such a strong turnout by our students, and I can only hope that they, too, feel enriched by their hour away from normal routines. These are the moments that help make for an extraordinary education,” Bravman said.

Trethewey is the Phillis Wheatley Distinguished Chair in Poetry at Emory University. Her first poetry collection, Domestic Work (2000), won the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet, the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry. Her second poetry collection Bellocq’s Ophelia (2002) was named a Notable Book for 2003 by the American Library Association.

She has received fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation and the Bunting Fellowship Program of the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard.

Her works have appeared in American Poetry Review, Kenyon Review, The Southern Review, New England Review, Gettysburg Review, The Best American Poetry 2000 and 2003 and other publications.

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