Daniel C. Littlefield, “Reflections on the History Behind the Poetry of Natasha Trethewey.” Historically Speaking 14, no. 1 (2013): 15–18.
Natasha Trethewey, Native Guard: Poems. First Edition. Boston: Mariner Books, 2007.
“Rita Dove, Pulitzer-Prize winner and former Poet Laureate of the United States as well as of the Commonwealth of Virginia, introduced the nation’s newest Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey’s first published volume of poetry by quoting James Baldwin: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them.”1 In considering Natasha Trethewey’s work, focusing mainly on her Pulitzer-Prize winning volume Native Guard, I will ruminate on the history behind some of the poems, or rather the history the poems suggest rather than the personal story they might tell. I am particularly struck by four themes in this volume. There is the theme of violence, most particularly of domestic violence that recalls a personal tragedy and has ramifications that extend far beyond the South, the locus of her poetry, and even beyond the nation. But there is also the violence engendered by war and racism, by dispossession and deprivation, and although these ills also extend far beyond the South and even beyond the nation, I want to contemplate them mainly in the region James Cobb has called “the most southern place on earth.” He was referring to the Mississippi Delta, or more particularly to the Yazoo-Mississippi Delta, “the common flood plain of the Yazoo and Mississippi rivers.” It is an area that David Cohn described as culturally extending from “the lobby of the Peabody hotel in Memphis” to “Catfish Row in Vicksburg.”2 But I will follow the Mississippi River to the Gulf Coast and include Louisiana, as Trethewey does in her work, and as many people do who live and work in this section of the country….”