Monument: Poems New and Selected

by Natasha Trethewey
$26.00
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Two-time U.S. Poet Laureate and Pulitzer Prize winner Natasha Trethewey’s new and selected poems, drawing upon Domestic Work, Bellocq’s Ophelia, Native Guard, Congregation, and Thrall, while also including new work written over the last decade.


  • Format: Hardcover
  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328507846
  • ISBN-10: 132850784X
  • Pages: 208
  • Publication Date: 11/06/2018
  • Carton Quantity: 12

About the book

“[Trethewey’s poems] dig beneath the surface of history—personal or communal, from childhood or from a century ago—to explore the human struggles that we all face.” —James H. Billington, 13th Librarian of Congress 

  

Layering joy and urgent defiance—against physical and cultural erasure, against white supremacy whether intangible or graven in stone—Trethewey’s work gives pedestal and witness to unsung icons. Monument, Trethewey’s first retrospective, draws together verse that delineates the stories of working class African American women, a mixed-race prostitute, one of the first black Civil War regiments, mestizo and mulatto figures in Casta paintings, Gulf coast victims of Katrina. Through the collection, inlaid and inextricable, winds the poet’s own family history of trauma and loss, resilience and love. 

  

In this setting, each section, each poem drawn from an “opus of classics both elegant and necessary,”* weaves and interlocks with those that come before and those that follow. As a whole, Monument casts new light on the trauma of our national wounds, our shared history. This is a poet’s remarkable labor to source evidence, persistence, and strength from the past in order to change the very foundation of the vocabulary we use to speak about race, gender, and our collective future. 

  

*Academy of American Poets’ chancellor Marilyn Nelson

About the author
Natasha Trethewey

NATASHA TRETHEWEY, two term U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and 2017 Heinz Award recipient, has written four collections of poetry and one book of nonfiction. An American Academy of Arts and Sciences fellow, she is currently Board of Trustees professor of English at Northwestern University. She lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Excerpts

Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath 

 

Do not hang your head or clench your fists 

when even your friend, after hearing the story, 

says, My mother would never put up with that. 

  

Fight the urge to rattle off statistics: that, 

more often, a woman who chooses to leave 

is then murdered. The hundredth time 

  

your father says, But she hated violence, 

why would she marry a guy like that? ?— ? 

don’t waste your breath explaining, again, 

  

how abusers wait, are patient, that they 

don’t beat you on the first date, sometimes 

not even the first few years of a marriage. 

  

Keep an impassive face whenever you hear 

Stand by Your Man, and let go your rage 

when you recall those words were advice 

  

given your mother. Try to forget the first 

trial, before she was dead, when the charge 

was only attempted murder; don’t belabor 

  

the thinking or the sentence that allowed 

her ex-husband’s release a year later, or 

the juror who said, It’s a domestic issue ?— ? 

  

they should work it out themselves. Just 

breathe when, after you read your poems 

about grief, a woman asks, Do you think 

  

your mother was weak for men? Learn 

to ignore subtext. Imagine a thought- 

cloud above your head, dark and heavy 

  

with the words you cannot say; let silence 

rain down. Remember you were told, 

by your famous professor, that you should 

  

write about something else, unburden 

yourself of the death of your mother and 

just pour your heart out in the poems. 

  

Ask yourself what’s in your heart, that 

reliquary ?— ?blood locket and seedbed ?— ?and 

contend with what it means, the folk saying 

  

you learned from a Korean poet in Seoul: 

that one does not bury the mother’s body 

in the ground but in the chest, or ?— ?like you ?— ? 

  

you carry her corpse on your back. 

  

  

 

 

I from DOMESTIC WORK 

 

 

Limen 

 

All day I’ve listened to the industry 

of a single woodpecker, worrying the catalpa tree 

just outside my window. Hard at his task, 

  

his body is a hinge, a door knocker 

to the cluttered house of memory in which 

I can almost see my mother’s face. 

  

She is there, again, beyond the tree, 

its slender pods and heart-shaped leaves, 

hanging wet sheets on the line ?— ?each one 

  

a thin white screen between us. So insistent 

is this woodpecker, I’m sure he must be 

looking for something else ?— ?not simply 

  

the beetles and grubs inside, but some other gift 

the tree might hold. All day he’s been at work, 

tireless, making the green hearts flutter. 

  

 

Early Evening, Frankfort, Kentucky 

  

It is 1965. I am not yet born, only 

a fullness beneath the Empire waist 

of my mother’s blue dress. 

  

The ruffles at her neck are waves 

of light in my father’s eyes. He carries 

a slim volume, leather-bound, poems 

  

to read as they walk. The long road 

past the college, through town, 

rises and falls before them, 

  

the blue hills shimmering at twilight. 

The stacks at the distillery exhale, 

and my parents breathe evening air 

  

heady and sweet as Kentucky bourbon. 

They are young and full of laughter, 

the sounds in my mother’s throat 

  

rippling down into my blood. 

My mother, who will not reach 

forty-one, steps into the middle 

  

of a field, lies down among clover 

and sweet grass, right here, right now ?— ? 

dead center of her life. 

  

 

Family Portrait 

 

Before the picture man comes 

Mama and I spend the morning 

cleaning the family room. She hums 

Motown, doles out chores, a warning ?— ? 

  

He has no legs, she says. Don’t stare. 

I’m first to the door when he rings. 

My father and uncle lift his chair 

onto the porch, arrange his things 

  

near the place his feet would be. 

He poses our only portrait ?— ?my father 

sitting, Mama beside him, and me 

in between. I watch him bother 

  

the space for knees, shins, scratching air 

as ?— ?years later ?— ?I’d itch for what’s not there.

Reviews

“Trethewey’s great theme is memory, and in particular the way private recollection and public history sometimes intersect but more often diverge.” —The New York Times 

 

“Her work raises one's conscience with the truths inherent in simple word combinations . . . and the care taken in ordering the pieces leads the reader from one poem to the next in graceful order." —Christian Science Monitor 

 

“Trethewey’s writing mines the cavernous isolation, brutality, and resilience of African American history, tracing its subterranean echoes to today.” —New Yorker 

 

“Her poetry reminds us to strive to use language in service of a thoughtful democracy.” —Huffington Post 

 

“The depth of her engagement in language marks her as a true poet.” —Washington Post