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About this poet

Natasha Trethewey was born on April 26, 1966, in Gulfport, Mississippi. She earned an MA in poetry from Hollins University and an MFA in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.

Her first collection of poetry, Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000), was selected by Rita Dove as the winner of the inaugural Cave Canem Poetry Prize for the best first book by an African American poet and won both the 2001 Mississippi Institute of Arts and Letters Book Prize and the 2001 Lillian Smith Award for Poetry.

Since then, she has published three more collections of poetry, including Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012); Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006), which received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; and Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002).

In her introduction to Domestic Work, Rita Dove said, "Trethewey eschews the Polaroid instant, choosing to render the unsuspecting yearnings and tremulous hopes that accompany our most private thoughts—reclaiming for us that interior life where the true self flourishes and to which we return, in solitary reverie, for strength."

Trethewey's honors include the Bunting Fellowship from the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts, the Guggenheim Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation. She is the Robert W. Woodruff Professor of English and Creative Writing at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

In 2012, Trethewey was named as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the 19th U.S. poet laureate by the Library of Congress. In 2013, she was appointed for a second term, during which she travelled to cities and towns across the country meeting with the general public to seek out the many ways poetry lives in American communities and reported on her discoveries in a regular feature on the PBS NewsHour Poetry Series. She was succeeded in 2014 by Charles Wright.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Thrall (Houghton Mifflin, 2012)
Native Guard (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
Bellocq's Ophelia (Graywolf Press, 2002)
Domestic Work (Graywolf Press, 2000)

Pilgrimage

Natasha Trethewey, 1966
Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
            above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
            Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
            on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
            in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
            listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
            of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
            Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
            in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
            their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
            preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
            were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
            in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
            The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
            Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
            the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.

From Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

From Native Guard: Poems by Natasha Trethewey. Copyright © 2006 by Natasha Trethewey. Reproduced by permission of Houghton Mifflin Company. All rights reserved.

Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey

Natasha Trethewey, who has served as both the state poet laureate of Mississippi and the U.S. poet laureate, received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 2006.

by this poet

poem
—after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619
She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still
poem
Overhead, pelicans glide in threes—
         their shadows across the sand
                  dark thoughts crossing the mind.

Beyond the fringe of coast, shrimpers
         hoist their nets, weighing the harvest
                  against the day's losses. Light waning,

concentration is a lone gull
poem

You can get there from here, though
there’s no going home.

Everywhere you go will be somewhere
you’ve never been. Try this:

head south on Mississippi 49, one—
by—one mile markers ticking off

another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion—dead end

at

collected in

collection
In this collection, we examine the significance of place in contempora...