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Doug Reviews "Monument: Poems New and Selected" by Natasha Trethewey


What matters more than anything for me with poetry, and particularly poetry of this caliber, is the emotive connection. These are subtle—beguilingly un-complex poems, and yet, they contain the depth required to move a receptive reader. If you consider reading only one book of poetry this year, choose Monument. Seldom do I find a poet’s work speaking with the profound strength these poems possess, without becoming maudlin and sappy. Despite having read her poetry and prose before, this collection of new works and selected poems from Natasha Trethewey’s last four books is, in itself, a creative achievement. One immediately notices the way the poems work together to advance the notion voiced in the NPR interview with Scott Simon, that “poetry speaks across the line that divides us.” Moreover, her voice, both on the page and in person, entices with the lucid lines and serene beauty of one who has confronted pain and sorrow. And, most of all, this book is, in itself a work of art. What do I mean? The poems’ arrangement, the way they conspire to create an appetite for the next page, how they accentuate the wounded voice of the speaker, and carry us along to a denouement that repeats like a singer’s encore to the response of an audience. All this arrives with exquisite grace at the fourth section of the poem, “Meditation at Decatur Square” and the lines in honor of her murdered mother, “So much gone and yet / she lives in my mind like a book / . . . the space she left / a wound / a womb / a bowl hewn”. However, Monument is not immobilized in Trethewey’s personal history. What is still, to many, the unfamiliar history of America, is addressed in her Pulitzer Prize Winning poems of Native Guard. These selections effectively invite readers, perhaps for the first time, onto that bleak stage of our shared past. These poems include us in a cumulative reconnection—and, for me, are the most significant aspect of this extraordinary work of art. Without naming it specifically, the collection’s title itself reminds a reader of The National Memorial for Peace and Justice’s recent opening in Montgomery, Alabama.

Trethewey’s voice has a unique quality that embodies human life and experience. Her book also supplies a connective tissue that signifies when reading poems. The poet employs this skillfully in the book’s epigraphs and allusions. They are prime connectors for me with any poet, and they say: here are the influences, here are the ancestors, here is the word passed on and the rich context of the creative spirit. When she spoke about becoming aware of Lorca, duende and the wound, in the NPR interview mentioned above, I nodded as if listening to someone relate an eternal element, a hallowed bond, a verity concerning how creation itself works. Take off the book’s jacket. Touch the covers. Then run your fingers across the end papers. Notice the color. Let your sensate perception supersede logical resistance. Now you are ready to read the poems, especially “Imperatives” to begin; and later, “Gathering,” and with its link to the covers we might even “watch (the fruit) turn gold”. . . in . . .“our minds’ dark pantry.”

Click here for NPR’s interview with Trethewey regarding Monument: Natasha Trethewey: Poetry Speaks 'Across The Lines That Would Divide Us':

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