The Civil War Sesquicentennial Gets a Poet Laureate

This morning I learned that Natasha Trethewey has been named as the next poet laureate.  Many of you know Trethewey from her penetrating collection of poems on the racial legacy of the Civil War, titled Native Guard.  Her selection comes at an important point in the Civil War Sesquicentennial as we begin to commemorate those events that mark emancipation and the recruitment of African Americans into the United States army.  It is a commemorative landscape fraught with landmines, but I am comforted in knowing that there are voices out there that can help to guide us through.

The ghost of history lies down beside me, rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.

Here is a video of the author reading “Elegy of a Native Guard” on location.

4 responses... add one

Great news about Natasha Trethewey, and a nicely done video. I like the way the poem first mentions the confederates, and their monument, and only then mentions the “black phalanx” of the Native Guards.

here’s the poem:

We leave Gulfport at noon; gulls overhead
trailing the boat–streamers, noisy fanfare–
all the way to Ship Island. What we see
first is the fort, its roof of grass, a lee–
half reminder of the men who served there–
a weathered monument to some of the dead.
Inside we follow the ranger, hurried
though we are to get to the beach. He tells
of graves lost in the Gulf, the island split
in half when Hurricane Camille hit,
shows us casemates, cannons, the store that sells
souvenirs, tokens of history long buried.
The Daughters of the Confederacy
has placed a plaque here, at the fort’s entrance–
each Confederate soldier’s name raised hard
in bronze; no names carved for the Native Guards–
2nd Regiment, Union men, black phalanx.
What is monument to their legacy?
All the grave markers, all the crude headstones–
water-lost. Now fish dart among their bones,
and we listen for what the waves intone.
Only the fort remains, near forty feet high,
round, unfinished, half open to the sky,
the elements–wind, rain–God’s deliberate eye.

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