publication date: 2006
In this 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Trethewey presented powerfully structured poems, which contained immediate imagery and explored personal and potent themes. For those who like poetry, this is a wonderful and effective collection.
The first thing I noticed about the poems was how suited they were for being read out loud. Trethewey’s use of rhythm and the sounds of the consonants and vowels in her words was impressive. Here was an example, which I would encourage you to read out loud:
She is leaving behind
the dirt roads of Mississippi, the film
of red dust around her ankles, the thin
whistle of wind through the floorboards
of the shotgun house, the very idea of home.
In these poems, Trethewey examined issues of race, loss, identity, motherhood, home, and memory, all in a cohesive and energetic way. Here she explored loss and mourning, in a poem titled “After Your Death”:
First, I emptied the closets of your clothes,
threw out the bowl of fruit, bruised
from your touch, left empty the jars
you bought for preserves.
Here was another example, focusing on race and history, written from the perspective of a former slave who has joined the Union Army in the Civil War:
I now use ink
to keep record, a closed book, not the lure
of memory – flawed, changeful – that dulls the lash
for the master, sharpens it for the slave.
Additionally, Trethewey used the strictures of poetry, such as meter, rhyme, and repetition, in a careful, studied way. Her use of repetition was always especially effective. The rules that Trethewey adhered to allowed her to craft compelling and unpredictable poems. Here was an example of this from the poem titled “Incident”:
We tell the story every year –
how we peered from the windows, shades drawn –
though nothing really happened,
the charred grass now green again.
We peered from the windows, shades drawn,
at the cross trussed like a Christmas tree,
the charred grass still green. Then
we darkened our rooms, lit the hurricane lamps.
Generally, all the poems were engaging, but there were a few slow or dull ones in the second half of the book. If you enjoy poetry, I would absolutely recommend this.
4/6: worth reading
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