Natasha Trethewey was named the 19th U.S. Poet Laureate today. Her volume of poetry, Native Guard, which won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, focuses on the black guard, a group of ex-slaves, who fought for Union forces on Ship Island offshore from Gulf Shores, Mississippi where she was born. These men were the first black troops to fight in the Civil War for the U.S. Trethewey wrote about them because the Daughters of the Confederacy had eulogized the confederate POWs imprisoned on the island, but did not remember the Native Guard. She explains how her poetry is about bringing “erasures” in history to the public’s attention.
Ship Island is part of the Gulf Islands National Seashore which stretches to Pensacola and Ft. Pickens and on to Ft. Walton Beach. All along this barrier island chain are remnants of forts that were the early U.S. coastal defense system. When the Civil War broke over the nation, these forts were fought over for strategic military positions. From Ship Island the Union forces struck New Orleans and destroyed the city.
Threthewey is a thoughtful poet whose writing plays in shades of gray that define the present day South I have personally observed—a region where the civil war is not really over; the voices have just been subdued by law. At the slightest provocation they emerge as rough and emotional as they must have been when the nation was openly divided. We are like a couple that has said too many bad things; making up is just a temporary truce because the wounds do not heal but smolder underneath the dry branches.
I am looking forward to a year of studying her poetry, and listening to her read hers and other poets works through the Library of Congress Poet Laureate pod casts and lectures. I will create a link on this site that you can grab whenever you next visit my blog, which I hope will be soon!