Quotes by: Natasha Trethewey
Writers, particularly poets, always feel exiled in some way - people who don't exactly feel at home, so they try to find a home in language.
For a long time, I've been interested in cultural memory and historical erasure.
I've been most happy to be an advocate for the kinds of grassroots things that people are doing who care about poetry.
Even though I am the daughter of a poet, and my stepmother is also a poet, growing up, I didn't think I could understand poetry; I didn't think that it had any relevance to my life, the feelings that I endured on a day-to-day basis, until I was introduced to the right poem.
Often as a poet I find that I am somewhat outside an experience I want to hold onto, consciously taking mental notes or writing them down in my journal - for fear that I will forget. It's not unlike being on a trip and taking pictures, your face behind a camera the whole time - the entire experience mediated by a lens.
I started out in graduate school to be a fiction writer. I thought I wanted to write short stories. I started writing poems at that point only because a friend of mine dared me to write a poem. And I took the dare because I was convinced that I couldn't write a good poem... And then it actually wasn't so bad.
Dismissals of poetry are nothing new. It's easy to dismiss poetry if one has not read much of it.
My mother was murdered by my step-father, my brother's father, who was also named Joel, twenty-five years ago. Whatever sadness or burden I've been living with since then, my brother's also been living with, but he's lived with the added burden of having the exact same name as our mother's murderer.
I think that it's hard enough being an adolescent and wanting so much to fit in with your peers, your schoolmates, and to erase any sign of difference, to be part of the group. And being biracial but also being black in a predominately white school marked me as different.
Often it seems that there are writers who are their best selves on the page. That Seamus Heaney was as genuine and deeply admirable in person as in his poems was to me a gift, then as now.
When kids look at broccoli, they call it 'little trees,' because they see it not just for the word 'broccoli.' They see it for what it looks like, the image. We, as adults, forget to think like that. We forget to think figuratively and have to be reminded.
The entirety of 'Bellocq's Ophelia' was a project, and I was interested in doing research and looking at photographs and writing about them, imagining this woman Ophelia and what her life was like and the kinds of things she thought about.
My father is a poet, my stepmother is a poet, and so I always had encouragement as a child to write.
I think often people don't realize the great diversity of Southern writing because in their minds, if you're not from the South, it can seem regional and small, and of course that's not the case at all when you start to read the work.
I love mystery novels... I love seeing the dramas played out in academic departments, particularly English departments. I started reading these when I was going up for tenure.
Growing up, my birthday was always Confederate Memorial Day. It helped to create this profound sense of awareness about the Civil War and the 100 years between the Civil War and the civil rights movement and my parents' then-illegal and interracial marriage.
Even as I think of myself as a 'rememberer,' I also know my memory is probably doing all this work to reconstruct a narrative where I come off better.
A poem I write is not just about me; it is about national identity, not just regional but national, the history of people in relation to other people. I reach for these outward stories to make sense of my own life, and how my story intersects with a larger public history.
One of two historically African American communities that sprang up along the Mississippi Gulf Coast after emancipation, North Gulfport has always been a place where residents have had fewer civic resources than those extended to other outlying communities.
From the catbird seat, I've found poetry to be the necessary utterance it has always been in America.
In the early 1970s in Atlanta, I attended what had formerly been an all-white school but had become a black school after integration and white flight. Perhaps because of this, the teachers created a curriculum that included a focus on African American literature and history year-round, not just in February.
Before I was ever a poet, my father was writing poems about me, so it was a turning of the tables when I became a poet and started answering, speaking back to his poems in ways that I had not before.
I was always very aware of the nature of the place where I was growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi, how that place was shaping my experience of the world. I had to go to the Northeast for graduate school because I felt like I had to get far away from my South, be outside it, to understand it.