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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey

Source: Purchased
Hardcover, 224 pgs.
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Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is an emotional roller coaster that I read in a couple of days. I’ve read much of Trethewey’s poetry in the past, so I was aware that her memoir would be well written. Growing up the daughter of a white father and a Black mother in the south was hard for her parents, but for the most part, they tried to shelter her from the darkness of bigotry and the still segregated south (Yes, the laws had changed, but attitudes and operations definitely had not). But this memoir is not about the fight for equality so much as a mystery slowly unraveled by Trethewey herself. She’s avoided parts of her past surrounding the murder of her mother by her stepfather. In many ways, the memoir reads like an intimate look at her own unraveling of the past and a stitching of herself into a whole being after splicing herself into the girl she was before she saw the apartment where her mother was slain and the woman she became afterward.

“‘Do you know what it means to have a wound that never heals?'” (Prologue)

“I chose to mark the calendar year just after my mother and I left Mississippi as ending, and the moment of loss — her death — as beginning.” (pg. 51)

Trethewey will take readers on a very emotional journey, and I rarely cry at memoirs. This was a tough read from beginning to end, as Trethewey came to terms with her biracial heritage, the divorce of her parents, and the fateful entrance of her stepfather. When she and her mother move to Atlanta, founded as “Terminus” or the end of the line, their perspectives on the move are very different. A child missing her close-knit family life in Mississippi and her mother reaching for a new life. When Big Joe comes into their lives, there’s an immediate sense of dread and fear as he takes her on long rides on the 285 as punishment (mostly for things she didn’t do). But Trethewey still blames her silence for what happened to her mother, even if it is less pronounced than it must have been years ago. Silence is a conundrum for her. “…I can’t help asking myself whether her death was the price of my inexplicable silence.” (pg. 83) When she returns to Atlanta after fleeing the place, she avoids the past and takes any roads that are not 285.

“The truth, however, was waiting for me in my body and on the map I consulted to navigate my way around: how the outline of 285 bears the shape of an anatomical heart imprinted on the landscape, a wound where Memorial intersects it.” (pg. 86)

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey is a gripping tale of healing and reconciling the past. Trethewey relies not only on her memory but on her mother’s own writing, testimony, and recorded phone conversations. I was emotionally wrecked by this memoir. The love she had as a child from both her parents provided her with the strong foundation she needed to revisit this tragic part of her past and to heal herself (at least I’m hopeful that she’s healing).

RATING: Cinquain

About the Author:

Natasha Trethewey is an American poet who was appointed United States Poet Laureate in 2012 and again in 2013. She won the 2007 Pulitzer Prize in Poetry for her 2006 collection Native Guard, and she is a former Poet Laureate of Mississippi.

Other Reviews:

Mailbox Monday #590

Mailbox Monday has become a tradition in the blogging world, and many of us thank Marcia of The Printed Page for creating it.

It now has it’s own blog where book bloggers can link up their own mailbox posts and share which books they bought or which they received for review from publishers, authors, and more.

Leslie, Martha, and I also will share our picks from everyone’s links in the new feature Books that Caught Our Eye. We hope you’ll join us.

Here’s what we received:

You Need a Budget: The Proven System for Breaking the Paycheck-to-Paycheck Cycle, Getting out of Debt, and Living the Life You Want by Jesse Mecham, purchased from Audible.

For most people, budgeting conjures up the same feelings as, say, prison and dieting. But your initial instinct couldn’t be further from the truth. You just haven’t budgeted the right way.

You Need a Budget will teach you four simple rules to completely revolutionize the way you think about managing your money. With a budget, you’ll break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, get out of debt, and save more money. A liberating, enabling, empowering budget will actually make you feel more free, not more restricted. The YNAB philosophy is centered around these four rules:

Give every dollar a job. Take your cash, checking, and saving accounts and assign jobs to that money. Begin now with what you have on hand. Then follow your plan. Pick your priorities, and make sure your dollars are helping you move closer to the things you care about most.
Embrace your true expenses. Look ahead and identify the larger, less frequent expenses that tend to sneak up on you. Break those expenses into manageable monthly amounts. Consider insurance premiums, birthdays, holidays, charitable giving, car repairs, etc. This practice evens out your cash outflows, decreases your stress, and helps you make better decisions.
Roll with the punches. Accept the fact that life always changes and you’ll likely always go over budget somewhere. If an unexpected expense comes up and you need to change your budget, just change it. The YNAB philosophy not only tolerates changing your budget but encourages it.
Age your money. The goal of this rule is to increase the time between the moment you earn money and the moment you spend that money. In other words, if you’re going to break the paycheck-to-paycheck cycle, you need to learn to live on money you earned a month or two months or even three months ago.

YNAB’s four rules are the pillars of a tried-and-true system that gets you to engage with your money every day. It helps you change your behavior so that you’re proactive and in control of your finances. It’s not about stressing over last month’s statement; instead, you’re looking ahead and actively deciding how you want and need to build a life of meaning, not stress.

When Mary Met the Colonel by Victoria Kincaid, freebie from the author on Audible.

Without the beauty and wit of the older Bennet sisters or the liveliness of the younger, Mary is the Bennet sister most often overlooked.

She has resigned herself to a life of loneliness, alleviated only by music and the occasional book of military history. Colonel Fitzwilliam finds himself envying his friends who are marrying wonderful women while he only attracts empty-headed flirts.

He longs for a caring, well-informed woman who will see the man beneath the uniform. During the wedding breakfast for Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet, a chance meeting in Longbourn’s garden kindles an attraction between Mary and the Colonel.

However, the Colonel cannot marry for love since he must wed an heiress. He returns to war, although Mary finds she cannot easily forget him. Is happily ever after possible after Mary meets the Colonel?

Memorial Drive by Natasha Trethewey, which I purchased from a Politics & Prose online event.

At age nineteen, Natasha Trethewey had her world turned upside down when her former stepfather shot and killed her mother. Grieving and still new to adulthood, she confronted the twin pulls of life and death in the aftermath of unimaginable trauma and now explores the way this experience lastingly shaped the artist she became.

With penetrating insight and a searing voice that moves from the wrenching to the elegiac, Pulitzer Prize–winning poet Natasha Trethewey explores this profound experience of pain, loss, and grief as an entry point into understanding the tragic course of her mother’s life and the way her own life has been shaped by a legacy of fierce love and resilience. Moving through her mother’s history in the deeply segregated South and through her own girlhood as a “child of miscegenation” in Mississippi, Trethewey plumbs her sense of dislocation and displacement in the lead-up to the harrowing crime that took place on Memorial Drive in Atlanta in 1985.

Memorial Drive is a compelling and searching look at a shared human experience of sudden loss and absence but also a piercing glimpse at the enduring ripple effects of white racism and domestic abuse. Animated by unforgettable prose and inflected by a poet’s attention to language, this is a luminous, urgent, and visceral memoir from one of our most important contemporary writers and thinkers.

What did you receive?

Book News: National Book Festival 2013

The 2013 National Book Festival will be in D.C. again for the 13th year, and there is a stunning lineup.

I usually spend most of my time in the Poetry & Prose tent, and that’s unlikely to change this year, as the Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey will be there on Saturday.  One of my early morning favorites is also in the same tent, Poetry Out Loud, which is a bunch of high school students performing their own poems or those of others.

Sunday, if anyone likes Joyce Carol Oates, she’s scheduled to appear, but I’ve had bad luck with her at events — i.e. her not showing up as scheduled or at all.  But on Sunday, Alyson Hagy will be in town with her new book, Boleto, which I just received in the mail from the publisher this month.

For the rest of the lineup this year in the Poetry & Prose tent, check out this Washington Post list.

I’m also glad to see that Scholastic will be back with fun activities for kids, since my daughter will be old enough to enjoy them more this year.

“Scholastic will showcase a sneak peek at artwork by beloved children’s illustrators who were asked to demonstrate what “Read Every Day” means to them and will ask kids and parents at the festival to share their thoughts on why they love reading on a giant chalkboard. Festival-goers can visit Scholastic’s Storia™ reading corner for e-read-alouds from its new e-reading app, showcasing Scholastic’s exciting digital offerings and delighting kids. Scholastic also will host the popular “Build-a-Book” station that lets visitors turn a blank book into a masterpiece.”

And beyond Scholastic, PBS is always on hand with a variety of show characters for pictures, which enabled my daughter to meet the Cat in the Hat and some others.

What will you be seeing at the book festival this year?  I’d love to get some recommendations.

Poetry for Your 2012 Holiday Shopping List

Savvy Holidays!

I’m sure all of you have either completed or have nearly completed your holiday shopping, but I wanted to recommend a couple of poetry books for the readers on your lists.  These books are accessible and could widen the scope of reading of your loved ones and maybe even yourself.

Wild Place by Erica Goss is a stunning chapbook collection that visually renders the wildness within ourselves through a series of images stick with you long after you read the verse.  One look at that cover can tell you the kind of raw power Goss uses in her poetry to explore how humanity can impair nature, but she also talks a little bit about history, particularly in her poems about Berlin, and the hardships of emigrating to another country.  In my review, I said, “Wild and untamed, the verse sings the beauty in the blame as humanity encroaches on nature, sometimes leading to its destruction and at other times unveiling the beauty beneath the scars.”

 

When My Brother Was an Aztec by Natalie Diaz examines the often ignored struggles of Native Americans in the modern world, particularly as they try to integrate into mainstream society.  The kids who are around white students in school are looking to be like their peers, while at home, their parents trying to hold onto their cultural traditions.  Diaz has a frankness in her verse as she not only tackles drug addiction, but also Native American myths and ancestry.  While these poems are steeped in culture, there also is a universality to the lines that make them accessible to people of all cultures.  I consider Diaz’s book “a glimmering debut collection that hums in the back of the mind and generates an emotional aftermath that will leave readers speechless.”

Of the two Natasha Trethewey books I’ve read this year (though one was a reread), this is the one that has impressed me the most and has caused me to reassess some things.  Thrall is an even more mature combination of the personal and historical than Native Guard is.  While her earlier collection examines the struggles of a mixed race child, the latest collection builds upon those insights to create a wider historical record of mixed race children and how they are viewed by their parents and history.  My review indicated, “While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.”

I hope that you’ll consider these collections as you do your holiday shopping and have a great holiday, everyone.

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey

Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer Prize, is sliced into three sections with the first section paying homage to a mother who has passed from this world into the next.  In “The Southern Crescent,” travel plays a particularly prominent role, with the train “humming like anticipation” as the narrator and her mother travel east and she sees her mother in the window clearly.  Trethewey’s poems are concise and filled with imagery that anyone can connect with on a visceral level.

“Graveyard Blues” screams loss and regret from the “stone pillow” for the narrator’s head at the end of the poem to the “hollow sound” of the mud as it sticks to mourners shoes during the funeral in the rain.  And “Myth” is a heart breaking poem, an elegy to the narrator’s mother — a hope that she can pull her from the other side into the real world through her dreams.  Many of us can relate to deep loss and the desire to change that loss and bring back loved ones from the dead — as if we could resurrect them.

In the second section, Trethewey tackles the oppressive memory of history in the deep South and how it is celebrated, feared, and hated for its bigotry and death.  From the prosperous hills of cotton harvested to the humps on the children’s backs from years of hard labor in the fields, the lines draw parallels in different segments of the poem to shed light on oppression — its costs and rewards.  The narration in these is a bit removed, more like an observer commenting on the events.  In the final section, Trethewey melds the personal stories with the historic events of the South and slavery to reveal a love-hate relationship with her native state Mississippi.  In many ways these poems reflect the tension between the white ancestry and the black ancestry of mulatto children from the south.

Even from the point of view of a child learning history and it is depicted as though slaves were well-treated and happy, it is hard to counter the widely held belief even if ancestry tells the student otherwise.  From “Monument” to “Elegy for the Native Guards,” there is a desire on the part of the narrator to pay homage to these pillars of the black community who stood up for what they believed in and made the best they could from the hands they were dealt.  At the same time, there is this reality that sinks in and mars any monument that can be resurrected, especially when made as an afterthought or belated gesture.  Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey tackles not only the sense of identity these biracial children struggle with, but also the struggle of Southerners to explain their pride in their history when it is so riddled with hatred.

About the Poet:

Natasha Trethewey was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966. She earned an M.A. in poetry from Hollins University and M.F.A. in poetry from the University of Massachusetts.

This is the 25th book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Thankfully Reading Weekend 2012

I’ve unofficially participated in Thankfully Reading Weekend, finishing Keys to the Repository by Melissa de la Cruz, beginning and finishing The Ghost Runner by Blair Richmond, and starting the book club pick Ripper by Stefan Petrucha and Misguided Angel by Melissa de la Cruz.

Challenge #1 was what is the perfect book recipe or reading recipe:

My favorite place to read is on the couch, generally lying down but propped up on pillows and with a glass of something ice cold (usually water) or something piping hot (like coffee or hot cocoa) — the beverage often depends on the weather.  The blanket can be fluffy, fuzzy, or just plain warm as long as the legs are covered.  As for a book…generally the writing has to be easy to follow, absorbing, and about things I enjoy reading about, which can either mean poetry, the environment, vampires, Ireland, Boston, or those struggling to find their identities or home.  I love internal struggles most of all, so books where the character is having an internal struggle are the most appealing.

Challenge #2 was about the book we’re most thankful for, and I have to say that its Thrall by Natasha Trethewey because it made me think about race and father-daughter relationships in a new way.  I loved that she used paintings and other artwork to illustrate her points, but that she also drew on the more personal aspects of father-daughter relationships.  And when you hear her read in person, you can just feel the emotion of these poems.  It has inspired me to find more books that move me in that way and to write poetry that will carry a more emotional rather than theoretical weight.

For Challenge #3, we were asked about our family reading traditions or memories about books; here’s what I shared:

Our family didn’t read much, but my nana read to us all the time and she let me loose in the library at a very young age, and I would beg my mother to take us many days of the week to reload my shelves. The love of reading is something I hope to pass onto my daughter, who already knows the word “read” and says it every time she picks up a book from the shelf and hands it to me. And when I’m working or busy with dinner, you’ll often catch her in a sea of books on the floor saying the few words she remembers from the books — reading to herself or her stuffed animals. Too cute. And it makes me proud.

I hope to at least get partially through a third book before the end of the weekend, so wish me luck.  I also cheer on everyone who is participating or not even participating, but reading.

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey

Thrall by Natasha Trethewey examines the lines between father and daughter and the African-American experience through a set of personal and analytical poems focused on race and culture.  In “Miracle of the Black Leg,” Trethewey examines the juxtaposition of white and black men in paintings and other artwork in which the leg of one man is taken and attached to the thigh of another man.  There are similarities in pain stricken faces in some images, paralleling their similar situations, but there are also clear disparities in how each man is treated, even if the leg is taken from a newly deceased person.  The imagery she chooses in this poem is particularly haunting, especially when taken in the historical context of how the images are presented throughout the years — with the black donor swept to the side and only the black leg as a representation of the whole.

"See how the story changes:  in one painting
     the Ethiop is merely a body, featureless in a coffin,
so black he has no face.  In another, the patient --
     at the top of the frame -- seems to writhe in pain,
the black leg grafted to his thigh.  Below him
     a mirror of suffering:  the blackamoor --" (page 11)
". . . The black man, on the floor,
holds his stump.  Above him, the doctor restrains
    the patient's arm as if to prevent him touching
the dark amendment of flesh.  How not to see it -- 
    the men bound one to the other, symbiotic --
one man rendered expendable, the other worthy
    of this sacrifice?  In version after version, even
when the Ethiopian isn't there, the leg is a stand-in,
    a black modifier against the white body," (page 12)

The title of the collection tells readers all they need to know about the topics covered, including the moral, mental, and physical slavery or servitude as well as the complete emotional absorption that can happen in relationships. As Trethewey examines works of art through a lens of racial demarcation, she also looks at daughters’ relationships with their fathers, which can sometimes be congenial and at other times turbulent. In “Knowledge,” she is looking at the dissection of a woman and the men who stand around her as the cut is made into her flesh, and Trethewey’s narrator concludes that her father was not just one type of man, but each of the men in the room — all at once contemplative, scientific, and artistic, even though at times she felt he were just one of those men.

It is easy to see why Thrall by Natasha Trethewey could captivate a packed audience at the Library of Congress when she was inducted as the newest U.S. Poet Laureate, and hearing a poet read their own work can be the best gift.  While her reading can enthrall you and bring you near tears, her careful word selection in each poem will ensure that you reflect on the meaning of each line in each verse before you even think about the overarching themes of separation and connection as well as their juxtaposition.  A collection that will be on the best of list for sure.

Check out the recap of the U.S. Poet Laureate Event.

This is the 22nd book for my 2012 Fearless Poetry Exploration Reading Challenge.

Mailbox Monday #198

Mailbox Mondays (click the icon to check out the new blog) has gone on tour since Marcia at A Girl and Her Books, formerly The Printed Page passed the torch. This month’s host is the Mailbox Monday blog.

The meme allows bloggers to share what books they receive in the mail or through other means over the past week.

Just be warned that these posts can increase your TBR piles and wish lists.

Here’s what I received:

1.  Native Guard by Natasha Trethewey, which I bought at Novel Places.

Through elegiac verse that honors her mother and tells of her own fraught childhood, Natasha Trethewey confronts the racial legacy of her native Deep South — where one of the first black regiments, the Louisiana Native Guards, was called into service during the Civil War. Trethewey’s resonant and beguiling collection is a haunting conversation between personal experience and national history.

2.  Thrall by Natasha Trethewey, which I bought at Novel Places.

Natasha Trethewey’s poems are at once deeply personal and historical—exploring her own interracial and complicated roots—and utterly American, connecting them to ours. The daughter of a black mother and white father, a student of history and of the Deep South, she is inspired by everything from colonial paintings of mulattos and mestizos to the stories of people forgotten by history. Meditations on captivity, knowledge, and inheritance permeate Thrall, as she reflects on a series of small estrangements from her poet father and comes to an understanding of how, as father and daughter, they are part of the ongoing history of race in America.

What did you receive?

19th U.S. Poet Laureate Named: Natasha Trethewey

The newest U.S. Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry was announced as Natasha Trethewey, author of the award-winning collection Native Guard.

Last week, I was able to head into Washington, D.C., to the Library of Congress with a friend and see Trethewey give the inaugural reading for the literary season.  She read from her latest collection, Thrall.

There is nothing like hearing a poet read from their own collection to make you want to buy it and read it for yourself and see the words drape the page.  If you’re interested, here are my impressions of the event.

154th Virtual Poetry Circle

Welcome to the 154th Virtual Poetry Circle!

Remember, this is just for fun and is not meant to be stressful.

Keep in mind what Molly Peacock’s books suggested. Look at a line, a stanza, sentences, and images; describe what you like or don’t like; and offer an opinion. If you missed my review of her book, check it out here.

Also, sign up for the 2012 Fearless Poetry Reading Challenge because its simple; you only need to read 1 book of poetry. Please visit the stops on the 2012 National Poetry Month Blog Tour.

Today’s poem is from Natasha Trethewey, our new U.S. Poet Laureate:

Pilgrimage

Vicksburg, Mississippi


Here, the Mississippi carved
            its mud-dark path, a graveyard

for skeletons of sunken riverboats.
            Here, the river changed its course,

turning away from the city
            as one turns, forgetting, from the past—

the abandoned bluffs, land sloping up
            above the river's bend—where now

the Yazoo fills the Mississippi's empty bed.
            Here, the dead stand up in stone, white

marble, on Confederate Avenue. I stand
            on ground once hollowed by a web of caves;

they must have seemed like catacombs,
            in 1863, to the woman sitting in her parlor,

candlelit, underground. I can see her
            listening to shells explode, writing herself

into history, asking what is to become
            of all the living things in this place?

This whole city is a grave. Every spring—
            Pilgrimage—the living come to mingle

with the dead, brush against their cold shoulders
            in the long hallways, listen all night

to their silence and indifference, relive
            their dying on the green battlefield.

At the museum, we marvel at their clothes—
            preserved under glass—so much smaller

than our own, as if those who wore them
            were only children. We sleep in their beds,

the old mansions hunkered on the bluffs, draped
            in flowers—funereal—a blur

of petals against the river's gray.
            The brochure in my room calls this

living history. The brass plate on the door reads
            Prissy's Room. A window frames

the river's crawl toward the Gulf. In my dream,
            the ghost of history lies down beside me,

rolls over, pins me beneath a heavy arm.

What do you think?