Natasha Trethewey was my school’s artist-in-residence in 2007 and so I am absolutely delighted that she has just been named the 19th US Poet Laureate. I can’t imagine a better choice. Congratulations, Natasha!
Here’s a slightly updated version of what I wrote about her work with my students that year:
On Wednesday my class had a truly magical hour with poet Natasha Trethewey who is at our school this year as a visiting artist. Aware of Natasha’s interest in history and primary source documents, I asked her if she would be interested in building on my students’ work with Sarah Margru Kinson, a child on the Amistad. She was.
And so Natasha came and, after leading the class in a close reading of several of Elizabeth Alexander’s Amistad poems from her collection American Sublime, guided them into creating a group poem of their own. After she left, the inspired children created individual Amistad poems and then presented them as collages. Natasha returned to hear the children present the poems.
Here’s the poem we wrote together:
What I remember of home is this:
green – green mangoes, green snakes, green bananas:
brown – my mother, my father, myself, the tree
trunks, the brown earth, the color of my language,
the only language I had
to describe these things.
Often I think of
how I came to be here:
my father pawning me, waving goodbye,
his face crumpled, tightened, looking
away from me.
I felt my captor’s white, cold hand
tighten around my wrist as if
he were a solid ghost taking me away.
Now I wish to see again
the green rice fields,
my father’s brown face,
clouds in the sky —
the only white things,
to hear someone speaking my language,