Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards -- one of the Union's first official black units. Trethewey's new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life.
The title poem imagines the life of a former slave stationed at the fort, who is charged with writing letters home for the illiterate or invalid POWs and his fellow soldiers. Just as he becomes the guard of Ship Island's memory, so Trethewey recalls her own childhood as the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her parents' marriage was still illegal in 1966 Mississippi. The racial legacy of the Civil War echoes through elegiac poems that honor her own mother and the forgotten history of her native South. Native Guard is haunted by the intersection of national and personal experience.
|Publisher:||Houghton Mifflin Harcourt|
|Edition description:||New Edition|
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.25(h) x 0.19(d)|
About the Author
NATASHA TRETHEWEY is the current U.S. Poet Laureate and is the Charles Howard Candler Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University. Native Guard, her third collection of poetry, received the 2007 Pulitzer Prize. Beyond Katrina: A Meditation on the Mississippi Gulf Coast was published in 2010. A new collection of poetry, Thrall, is forthcoming in September.
Table of Contents
Theories of Time and Space 1
The Southern Crescent 5
Genus Narcissus 7
Graveyard Blues 8
What the Body Can Say 9
Photograph: Ice Storm, 1971 10
What is Evidence 11
After Your Death 13
At Dusk 15
Scenes from a Documentary History of Mississippi 21
King Cotton, 1907
Glyph, Aberdeen 1913
You Are Late
Native Guard 25
Again, the Fields 31
My Mother Dreams Another Country 37
Southern History 38
Southern Gothic 40
Elegy for the Native Guards 44
What People are Saying About This
"Trethewey serves our profound need for that rare thingartistically fine Civil War poetry...She is our Native Guard."David Madden, author of Sharpshooter
"The graceful form conceals a gritty subject...Trethewey has a gift for squeezing the contradictions of the South into very tightly controlled lines."Book World The Washington Post
"[Native Guard] consistently presents Trethewey's belief that history is layered, full of bones and ghosts, and that the poet's job is to penetrate and expose." St. Louis Post-Dispatch
"Trethewey is sure-handed in her use of language and fearless in confronting her own personal issues." The Advocate
"A moving testimony." Atlanta Journal Constitution
"Elegiac...eloquently told...profoundly moving...Trethewey is clearly a poet to savor."Maxine Kumin
"In a very few years Natasha Trethewey has created a small body of nearly flawless poetry."Rodney Jones
"[Natasha Tretheway’s] voice is a rare, beautiful gift to the reader."William Ferris, Joel R. Williamson Eminent Professor of History, UNC Chapel Hill
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Every time I go back to this book, I am more awed by Trethewey's craft and talent. Each poem on each reading & re-reading is a small awakening.
These poems are heavy-handed and filled with cliches. Trethewey seems to be content in expressing a feeling at the end of the poem, as if the fact that she felt something was enough. Witness these bad lines (about death no less): "again, another space emptied by loss. / Tomorrow, the bowl I have yet to fill." The poems in form are slightly better (I liked Myth and Graveyard Blues), perhaps the restraint helps her cut a sharper poem, but the free verse poems are bad: often prosaic, uninspiring, sloppy. Even her best poems are just mediocre; they lack any kind of original voice. How is this different from any other contemporary poet?
This Pulitzer Prize-winning poetry collection by Natasha Trethewey contains twenty-six poems divided into three sections. Each section's content is linked thematically as the poet examines her grief over her mother's death, the history of the eponymous 'Native Guard,' and growing up of mixed race in the South. The themes sound disparate, but are truly linked, often by the repetition of a thought or phrase, so that the collection as a whole flows together unmistakeably. Indeed, though I sometimes paused to linger on a single poem, I more often found myself wanting to go on before I lost the connecting thread.I do not read much poetry; after reading Native Guard, I have determined that I do not read enough poetry. Each poem reads simply - by which I do not mean that it is easy, but that I do not have to attack it with a sledgehammer to determine its meaning - contains strong emotion, and begs to be read aloud and savored. Though I find it hard in such a well-seamed collection to pick out one or two pieces as favorites, I often turned back to the first poem, 'Theories of Time and Space,' and had to stop reading to hold back tears when I came to 'Graveyard Blues.' This will definitely be one of my most memorable reads of the year.
Natasha Trethewey's recent collection brings poetry back into the home. Or at least, it brought it back into mine. The elegant simplicity of her style often draped over complex forms is soft and inviting even when the subject matter is cold, stricken, and calloused.The presence of her mother invades every page. Indeed, for Trethewey, poetry becomes the monument for her mother: the physical marker on the landscape of history. It is a marker that history would just as soon forget, much like the Louisiana Native Guard, the first officially sanctioned regiment of black soldiers in the Union Army and the focus of the second section. Trethewey's poetry creates a space for remembrance.But she does not travel into this space without hesitation. The opening poem, "Theories of Space and Time," illustrates her acknowledgment of what this trip might cost: "You can get there from here, though / there's no going home." The photograph someone snaps along the way and presents upon your return shows a different you. Nothing is quite the same again. But the will to remember, to create a history that remembers, (thankfully for us) overcomes the poet.One of my favorite poems, "What the Body Can Say," deals with the inability to reconcile sign and signified without a mediating context. In this case, the context is the body that figures forth "something" unnameable. As with the scarred back of the slave in "Native Guard," the body becomes the organ of speech, saying what the mouth or pen does not. This thought is wonderfully reinforced by the image of a notebook crosshatched in two different hands: one the hand of a white southerner, the other the hand of a black Native Guard soldier (this begs the questions: does Trethewey consider the work of the poet painful or traumatic?).The need for a human contextualizing agent comes up again and again throughout the first section: the poet offers herself as context in "Photograph: Ice Storm, 1971"; "What is Evidence" again depicts the scarred body, contrasting it with the (less meaningful) historical document; "Letter" emphasizes the fragility of signs, especially ones outside the body (e.g. in the form of a letter to a friend); and "After Your Death" depicts the emotional magnitude of bodiless signs in the context of grief.Section 2 of Native Guard deals primarily with untold history. Stories that both the orthodox accounts and the landscape itself has forgotten. Section 3 is more personal and explores the role of the poet, our poet, in matters of race, the South, and the African-American's position among the two. Poems like "Incident" weave form with meaning with subtlety to overscore powerful images while poems like "Monument" go straight for the jugular: "At my mother's grave, ants streamed in / and out like arteries, a tiny hill rising / above her untended plot."I've read Native Guard twice I would eagerly suggest it to others.
A very good read that combines a clear and imaginative poetic voice with a heartwrenching history of Louisiana's Native Guard regiments.
Trethewey’s Native Guard is a collection of poems that provides a powerful lens that urges readers to look both inward and outward. Many of Trethewey’s poems are deeply personal, covering subjects such as her mother’s death and how she was perceived in the South as the child of a white man and a black woman. However, they are never presented as excluding the audience. Rather Trethewey is inviting her readers to come and take a good, true look at the world we live in through her eyes. There is no shying away from anything in these poems. Trethewey takes her readers through the burial of her mother to questions in a churchyard to growing up where people referred to her as a mongrel or mullatto. Trethewey doesn’t settle for just personal history. She also takes inspiration from American history, particularly the history of the South. In poems like “Native Guard” and “Scenes from a documentary/History of Mississippi”, Trethewey exposes the darker history of the South that is either not mentioned in the history books or blatantly ignored, as her poem “Southern History” shows. Trethewey uses these poems to challenge her reader’s perspective of Southern history, and she does it in such a way that they will also find their perceptions of themselves challenged. Are they like the teacher in “Southern History” that claims blacks were better off enslaved, or like Trethewey herself and the rest of the class, who stay silent so that the school day might be over sooner? These are the kind of questions that Native Guard brings up, and I believe readers will find they are better for asking them.