Monument: Poems New and Selected

Monument: Poems New and Selected

by Natasha Trethewey

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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

Available Resources

Related Categories

  • Format: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328507846

  • ISBN-10: 132850784X

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $26.00

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2018

  • Carton Quantity: 12

Natasha Trethewey

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.
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  • reviews

    “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

  • 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. 










    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: Hardcover

  • ISBN-13/EAN: 9781328507846

  • ISBN-10: 132850784X

  • Pages: 208

  • Price: $26.00

  • Publication Date: 11/06/2018

  • Carton Quantity: 12

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