This collection from two-time US Poet Laureate combines poems from Trethewey’s previous books (and the entirety of her 2007 Pulitzer Prize-winning Native Guard) and a section of new work. Trethewey’s poems are heady, powerful, and gorgeously wrought mixing traditional forms, free verse, and daring narrative structures. A poet of mixed race, she consistently tackles racism, identity, and the African-American experience in poems informed by historical subjects including the Louisiana Native Guard, an all-black Union regiment that guarded Confederate POWs and selections from Bellocq’s Ophelia, an epistolary sequence inspired by early twentieth century photographs of mixed race prostitutes in New Orleans. Some of the most powerful poems are ekphrastic meditations on paintings—particularly a series of poems regarding limbs transplanted from black donors onto white bodies and a sequence based on Spanish taxonomies of race. She has deeply affecting poems about her mother who was murdered by her step-father in a tragic case of domestic abuse, her imprisoned brother, domestic workers, and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. A magisterial collection of 20 years of work marking her as a major American poet.
— Dafydd Wood
Longlisted for the 2018 National Book Award for Poetry
“[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, two term U.S. Poet Laureate, Pulitzer Prize winner, and 2017 Heinz Award recipient, has written five 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.
“This collection of old and new poems by the former poet laureate of the United States includes Trethewey’s powerful reflections on the way our nation contends with its diversity and memorializes its past. Think you’re not a poetry person? Think again. Trethewey’s verse is as accessible as it is brilliant.”—The Washington Post
“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
“The poems are haunting reflections on a mother’s murder, the ravages of Hurricane Katrina, an early 20th-century prostitute in New Orleans, a regiment of black soldiers guarding Confederate POWs, mixed-race families and the black working class. The opening poem, a new one, titled ‘Imperatives for Carrying On in the Aftermath,’ ends with an emotional punch to the gut that sets the tone for what follows.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
“As much as the subjects of Trethewey’s poems grabbed me, whether she was writing about Southern history and the Civil War or the violence her mother suffered at the hands of her second husband, resulting in her death, Trethewey’s skill with language and form overwhelms me…consider…“Myth”: I was so entranced by the way Trethewey deals with loss that I didn’t realized what she pulled off formally. Then I had a wait, what? moment followed by a holy shit how did she do that? moment—I still don’t have an answer to that second question, and that’s fine. Sometimes it’s okay to just marvel at a thing.” —The Rumpus
“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