Last week, Literary Arts brought another tremendous event to Portland. Close to 2000 people gathered in the Schnitzer Hall to hear Natasha Trethewey speak and read her poems. Trethewey is the youngest woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry; her books have won a number of other national poetry prizes, as well.
Trethewey’s presence was warm and dynamic; if she was uncomfortable in front of such a large audience, it wasn’t evident, at all. Her reading was interspersed with a variety of biographical details; she said that her poems came out of a “tension between the history of a place and autobiography.”
In Native Guard — her 2006 collection — that place is the Gulf Coast of Mississippi, where she herself was born. Indeed, Trethewey quoted Heraclitus’ dictum that, “geography is fate.” The geography of her own heritage — the geography of Highway 49 in Mississippi — is a troubled story, one that she mines for the raw material of her work.
Here is the beginning of her poem, “Theories of Time and Space,” which she read in its entirety:
head south on Mississippi 49, one-
by-one mile markers ticking off
another minute of your life. Follow this
to its natural conclusion — dead end
at the coast, the pier at Gulfport where
riggings of shrimp boats are loose stitches
in a sky threatening rain.
Native Guard has moments of stunning, memorable language. Speaking of an anthill on her mother’s grave, Trethewey says it is: “A blister on my heart / a red and humming swarm.”
This was a great event — and ranks up there with Mary Oliver’s lecture as one of my favorites.
To read the Oregonian’s article about the Portland Arts & Lectures event click here!
The lecture will be aired on OPB on November 30th.