A Woman of Many Words: US Poet Laurette Natasha Trethewey


On March 18, English 311 students hosted a panel on U.S. Poet Laureate Natasha Tretheway (2012-2014). Dr. Mary Clare Caruth opened the Zoom call by wishing everyone a Happy Women’s History Month. She continued by thanking the Department of English and the College of Humanities and Interdisciplinary Studies. She also showed her gratitude towards the communications department by saying, “They did a great job of producing a professional flyer and communications across the university about this event.”

As viewers joined, Dr. Caruth gave students background information about Natasha Trethewey. She was the child of a white Canadian father and an African American woman a year before the Supreme Court banned laws against interracial marriage. After leaving the state, they married but later divorced, whereafter moving to Atlanta, her mother met a second husband who was physically abusive. Tragically, her mother, Gwendolyn Turnbough, was murdered by that ex-husband.

Natasha wrote her poems in the National Guard as a monument to her mother. Her experience of loss and being biracial largely shaped her poetry. In recognition of those that have been a victim of intimate partner violence, the English Club, under the direction of Dr. Toadvine will be sponsoring a drive for donations for local shelters. They will be accepting household items, toiletries, etc. Donation bins will be available in Harris Hall (near the Registrar’s office) and in Mayberry Dining Hall until March 31st.

After reading the history of Natasha Trethewey, Dr. Caruth introduced the panel. The panel was tasked with reading a poem by the poet and then the analysis of the said piece, consisting of Christy Kelly, Ladonia Semien (Junior English Major), Olivia Samuels, and Noland Johnson (Junior English Major Minor).

Christy Kelly began the discussion by reciting, “Again, the Fields” an ekphrastic poem (a vivid description of a work of art) by Natasha Trethewey that was based on a painting by Winslow Homer, “Veteran in the field”. She then read an analysis of the poem, informing the viewers on how her words were influenced by the painting.

After this, Ladonia Semien read the poem, “My Mother Dreams of Another Country,” standing in place of student Natalie Thurman, who was unable to attend. After reciting the poem, she explained the different techniques Natasha used in detail. When asked why she believed celebrating Trethewey was important this month, Semien said, “I feel it was important to highlight Trethewey during Women’s History Month, because like most women, she has been through a lot in her life. She has dealt with being from an illegal bi-racial family in the 1960s. She has experienced her mother going through an abusive relationship and eventually dying from it. Not most women are strong enough to deal with all of that before the age of 20 & a lot of them surely aren’t brave enough to put that grief and pain into poetry. She’s a strong woman and she embodies everything women’s history month is about; telling your story, not letting your circumstances break you down, but instead use what you’ve been through to empower you.”

Noland Thomas contributed to the readings by reciting “Elegy for the Native Guards.” His analysis explained the different literary devices from the poem, and how that poem stood to respect soldiers who weren’t respected in monuments for the civil war.

After Olivia Samuels recited her piece, the floor was opened to viewers who had anything to share or any questions to ask. Viewers and participants were thanked for attending the Zoom, and celebrating Women’s History Month.

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