Monument: Poems New and Selected

Monument: Poems New and Selected

by Natasha Trethewey

Also available in:

“[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 

 

 

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358118237

  • ISBN-10: 0358118239

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $15.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 24

Natasha Trethewey
Author

Natasha Trethewey

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.
Learn More
  • reviews

    “The Mississippi-born poet Natasha Trethewey has an exalted résumé . . . but her poems are earthy; they fly close to the ground . . . Trethewey pivots knowingly, in her poetry, between hard times and good ones. The delicate branches of her verse run you along a harrowing borderline of substance and illusion . . . [Trethewey has an] insistent intellect and [a] gift for turning over rich soil . . . The human details in Trethewey’s work—those crabs, that music, those cracked palms—are like the small feathers that give contour to a bird’s wing. Monument is a major book, and in her best poems this poet soars.”—Dwight Garner, New York Times 

     

    “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.”—Washington Post 

     

    “We have seen, over a very few years, the ways language and words can so bitterly divide us. The very fact that a poet laureate can exist at all seems an act of hope—is there one writer who could possibly represent this whole country? Natasha Trethewey was a two-term laureate, and her poetry seems to fit that description, precise in word choice but wide in subject and historical memory. Her new collection is called Monument, and that's what it feels like in some ways—patriotic, brave, honest—with a power that feels like some stanzas could slash you to ribbons.”—NPR 

     

    “The arrival of Monument is perfectly timed, or specific to this moment . . . what stands out beyond that is how many ways Trethewey finds to revisit and restructure history: her own, but also the histories of black people in America. The book’s title is a tribute to many things, both the immovability of America’s obsession with monuments and the task of building and rebuilding one’s self in an attempt to obscure grief. Her use of history as a driving force behind her poetry and as a nudge toward enlightenment—for herself and others—feels rooted in a type of empathy. Throughout this vast catalog of work, teeming with references to specific dates or old photos, Trethewey doesn’t shame readers for what they don’t know. Instead, she invites them to learn alongside her . . . this is a black woman who has committed an entire life and career to holding a country accountable, despite the weight of her own grief.”—Hanif Abdurraqib, BuzzFeed 

     

    “For poets, she’ll be remembered for her deft use of subtlety, for her use of forms that make ironic the subjects they hold, for her very interesting way of interweaving personal history and public history—their impact on each other—in a single book. And for critics and other readers, I think she’ll be remembered for the ways that the poems are all-out acts of resistance and anger. There always seems to me something seething between the lines of every Natasha Trethewey poem, which is part of what makes her work so admirable and so completely impossible to imitate.”—Jericho Brown 

     

    “Trethewey’s book—her first retrospective collection—is a literary edifice that painstakingly, heartbreakingly, and victoriously memorializes those deemed unworthy of citation in academic syllabi or among the nation’s public statuary. It’s a marker in America’s conversation on race and gender. More intimately, it’s a Mississippi-soaked, multi-voiced remembrance of Trethewey’s departed parents. While the collection spans work over an eighteen-year period, it stays in earnest conversation with today’s fervent headlines . . . Monument is the literary activism of the archivist, the social justice work of the painstaking historian-turned-poet. After reading this volume, it’s clear why her work is monumental—this book is a must-read for people interested in where America has been, where it’s headed, and how to traverse the crossroads of the country’s literature while also perhaps saving their soul at the beginning of this turbulent century.”—Tyehimba Jess, Poetry Foundation 

     

    “Her exquisite and brutal lyricism as well as her commitment to truth makes Trethewey one of the most important American poets of our time . . . Her new book, Monument, is . . . a vibrant and timely book, deeply aware of our nation’s chaotic moment and its historical resonances . . . Trethewey is a tremendously empathic and enthusiastic force in our nation’s bleak period. Her words settle with profound gravity.”—Paris Review 

     

    “Natasha Trethewey’s first selected volume of poems is the opposite of what her title suggests. This is no freeze framing of the past into bronze. Here instead in eighty-three remarkable poems lives history and memory as a wound one cannot heal, only tend with love. Trethewey powerfully conjures her late mother, breathes life into people erased in plain sight. Photographic subjects glossed but not captured. Domestic life watched but not seen. Southern history in all its hypocrisy. Raised in Mississippi the child of a black mother and a white father when that was illegal, history’s arm fell hard on Trethewey, as she writes. Through two decades of work we can now see the poet regarding her own self, interrogating the bargains her skin made for her as a biracial woman. Wondering at what inheritance meant, why absence—cruelly delivered in her mother’s murder—didn’t qualify as the maker, these poems, not just she, the made.”—Lit Hub 

     

    “For readers unfamiliar with the poet Natasha Trethewey—or with contemporary poetry more generally; or, for that matter, with the raveled history of the South—Monument: Poems New and Selected is an exquisite starting place . . . Trethewey has from the beginning focused on a fixed palette of themes— memory, history, race—and Monument offers a cohesive exploration of those thematic concerns, revealing a poet mining ever deeper into the hot core of her ideas . . . Trethewey is . . . about as canonical as living poets get.”—Garden & Gun 

     

    “Trethewey is a poet to return to—we know she’s special, and then comes along the aptly titled Monument, and the evidence feels almost overwhelming. Her work is God-haunted, clothed with the small flashes of memory against despair . . . One of the best collected volumes published this year.”—The Millions 

     

    “Natasha Trethewey’s Monument offers just that: a living memorial to a mother lost too soon, a reworking of her classic books to bring out the themes of history and memory all the more profoundly, and a rock-solid testament to a tremendous career still underway. The new poems also offer a sense of her trajectory as a public poet who has made her private concerns ever-present and everlasting, with an exactness of language that remains unmatched.”—Kevin Young, Nylon 

     

    Monument, which is released the day after this week’s midterm elections, is a call to action for us to record and remember our histories—even, and especially, the parts that make us ...

  • 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.

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Paperback

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9780358118237

  • ISBN-10: 0358118239

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $15.99

  • Publication Date: 11/05/2019

  • Carton Quantity: 24

Want the latest...

on all things Poetry?