Poet Explores Louisiana Native Guard and Comments on Memory
Poet Natasha Treatheway has won a Pulitzer Prize for her collection titled Native Guard Poems. From the book jacket:
Growing up in the Deep South, Natasha Trethewey was never told that
in her hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi, black soldiers had played a pivotal
role in the Civil War. Off the coast, on Ship Island, stood a fort that had once
been a Union prison housing Confederate captives. Protecting the fort was the
second regiment of the Louisiana Native Guards — one of the Union’s first
official black units. Trethewey’s new book of poems pays homage to the soldiers
who served and whose voices have echoed through her own life. The title
poem imagines the life of a former slave stationed at the fort, who is charged
with writing letters home for the illiterate or invalid POWs and his fellow
soldiers. Just as he becomes the guard of Ship Island’s memory, so Trethewey
recalls her own childhood as the daughter of a black woman and a white man. Her
parents’ marriage was still illegal in 1966 Mississippi. The racial legacy of
the Civil War echoes through elegiac poems that honor her own mother and the
forgotten history of her native South. Native Guard is haunted by the
intersection of national and personal experience.
Trethewey started researching "Native Guard" when she realized that a war
monument at a fort on Ship Island off the Mississippi coast never mentions the
Native Guard even though they were stationed there to guard Confederate
Every Independence Day holiday as a child, a grandmother took her to the
island from her home in Gulfport, Mississippi.
"I was intrigued by the idea that I had grown up there and never knew about
this, which made me think about historical markers and monuments and how they
often only tell one part of the story," she said.
"The (Southern) landscape is inscribed with a particular narrative and in the
Deep South it’s often a narrative about Confederate history," she said in an
Click here for an interview with the Newshour’s Jeffrey Brown. I don’t read much poetry, but it looks like I will have to check this out.