I went to see and hear Natasha Trethewey speak at my Alma mater this week. I was already a fan of her work, and had been looking forward to the talk entitled "Changing the World One Poem at a Time: Using the arts as a tool for understanding difference and as a catalyst to explore complex topics such as race", so central to the research and writing I have been doing.
But something happened during the talk. I'm not at all sure what it was. But Ms. Trethewey, simply by sharing herself with her audience, became my favorite poet. I realize that sounds silly and simplistic, and will attempt to explain.
My writing, both prose and poetry, is more often than not, an exploration of issues of race. My poetry, like Natasha's, often looks at snippets of history and / or art, to try to make sense of my own life and the America I live in. I have always been more drawn to narrative poetry, and consider myself a story teller, but I aspire to something more. Something she has voiced about herself as a writer as in this quote;
“[I am] a poet interested not only in the sounds of language and in its beauty, but in its ability to help us deal with our most difficult knowledge and help us move towards justice.”
I am especially interested in working with the concept of historical amnesia that Natasha talks and writes about, and much of my own work seems to be an exploration of that.
Her comments on that subject have inspired the following poem from me today. It is brand new so will be reworked several times before it is finished. It occurs to me this morning that this childhood memory, that has always stayed with me, may have been the very beginning of my own excavations of what came before me and what created me. Yet I would not have written this without Natasha's influence on me this week.
I was so little
that I remember little.
Only boundless rolling knolls
of luxurious green grass.
A perfect place for family fun.
But I think I had a child’s sense
that the beauty was false.
A sad secret rippled beneath.
Not the green of the grass
or the blue of the sky, but red.
A cold clotted river of loss,
mixed by bayonets and shovels.
Men, women, and children,
black, white, and native,
union, confederate, objector.
All co-mingling together forever…
beneath my skipping Mary Jane’s.
I breathed the false exquisite beauty
of boundless rolling knolls
of luxurious green grass.
Tammi J Truax. All rights reserved.
The favorite writer status she has with me now is not just about me admiring her as a writer. It is at least as much about me seeing her as a teacher. I endeavor to write the way she does; with great honesty and courage, but in stunningly beautiful words and forms. Considering the chasm between our accomplishments in that regard, this is a daunting task, and I have a lot of work to do!
I share this video of Natasha talking about her work on Native Guard which caught my attention because one of the dozens of books I've read this year for research on my historical novel was Dr. Mutter's Marvels by Cristin O'Keefe Aptowicz. I was not aware of this museum.
Finally here is a video of Natasha reading her poem Incident.