Natasha Trethewey on Surviving the White Mind of the South
In Conversation with Maris Kreizman on The Maris Review Podcast
On figurative language as a survival skill:
The part that [my father] was always pointing out from Robert Frost’s essay is that without one’s proper poetical education in the metaphor, you’re not safe in science, you’re not safe in history. You’re not able to read the figurative language that is everywhere around you. Growing up Black and biracial in the Deep South, it was necessary to understand all of the figurative ideas about who I was in the white mind of the South as a way to be safe. To not allow that thinking to name me and thus constrain me.
On the types of domestic violence that coexist in her work:
When I wrote my collection of poems, Native Guard, in many ways I set these two existential wounds of mine side by side. The first part of the book is elegies to my mother. They are about my grief. I don’t deal with how she died in that book, just my grief in the aftermath. But I place that alongside Civil War memory and Civil War amnesia around Black participation, the monuments and memorials we erect. I knew very well when I was laying these things side by side that I was thinking about domestic violence. I was thinking about our personal domestic violence in my own household, but I was also thinking about our national domestic violence in our American household.
Natasha Trethewey is a former US poet laureate and the author of five collections of poetry, as well as a book of creative nonfiction. She is currently the Board of Trustees Professor of English at Northwestern University. In 2007 she won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her collection Native Guard.