Natasha Trethewey

Poetry and Possibilities: Do They Live at Your Library?

Those of you familiar with my work over the years know I am a passionate advocate for poetry.  Thanks to a life-changing course I took with Dr. JoBeth Allen at the University of Georgia during Spring Semester 2003, my world changed, and so did my outlook on the importance of poetry in the classroom, libraries, and life. In my work as classroom teacher at Cherokee High and then Polaris Evening School, I tried to give my students many kinds of experiences in immersing themselves into reading, writing, and dwelling in poetry. As a librarian at The Unquiet Library, I published student works of poetry via blogs, bound books, leaflets we hung on our poetry clothesline about the library, and on posters we created from students’ original compositions and placed throughout the library on easels as part of a “poetry gallery.” I also worked with teachers to help students compose their own poems and then share that work as part of a poetry reading celebration; we also captured images, audio, and video from these shared poetry reading experiences.  I know many of you in public, school, and academic libraries are also champions of poetry—not as a brutal exercise in explication but as a means of creative expression and providing community.

Many of you know I am also a huge fan of Natasha Trethewey, our U.S. Poet Laureate.  Trethewey has partnered with PBS for a new series, Where Poetry Lives, as she explores the places poetry takes root in our lives.  Tonight’s segment featured a visit to the Marcus Garvey Academy in Detroit where PBS NewsHour explored the ways that poetry integration into the school is making a difference in the lives of its young students who are blossoming as learners, writers, and individuals.  With the help of the InsideOut Literary Arts Program, poetry is a medium opening doors of possibility as part of the learner experience at Marcus Garvey Academy.   Take a listen to what these three young wise poets have to say about the ways poetry reflects what is important in their lives and their thoughts on the importance of writing poetry:

How does your library honor poetry as a medium of art, exploration, participatory learning, and civic discourse? How might your library create these kinds of experiences to help people find their voices and to make the invisible stories of your community visible?  ,I encourage you to now take a look at these links from tonight’s feature story, which includes Trethewey’s recollections, thoughts from the InsideOut founder Terry Backhawk, the school principal’s reflections on the importance of poetry in his school, and additional commentary from the students.

Additional Resources:

Georgia Literary Festival 2012

Natasha Trethewey, Georgia Literary Festival 2012
Original photograph by Buffy Hamilton

Two of my favorite things in the whole world that resonate deeply in my heart are poetry and the beaches of coastal Georgia (known as the Golden Isles), including Jekyll Island.  The two converged at the Georgia Literary Festival held in the newly constructed Jekyll Island Convention Center (which is a gorgeous new incarnation of the old facility and remains beachside).  The festival, which was free to everyone, included a diverse range of authors, events, and genres; you can learn more about the festival by clicking on this special publication from the Brunswick News.

While there were several events, topics, and authors of interest to me, I specifically attended the festival to hear Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate.  She read poems from her new book, Thrall, a collection of poetry that explores  attitudes about race through multiple contexts that are both personal and historical in a manner that is bold, courageous, and poignant.  Her transcendent readings of the poems were exquisite and searing, and I felt as though I had experienced a kind of catharsis in the hour that seemed to pass in a matter of minutes.  I was too awestruck to utter much of anything when it was my turn to have her autograph my copies of Thrall and Native Guard for it was quite humbling to have been in the presence of such a gifted artist and poet.  Afterwards, I savored some time at the beach, which is easily accessible from the convention center, to try and process the experience of her beautiful yet haunting poetry reading.  The festival also gave me inspiration for some future professional and personal endeavors I hope to pursue in the immediate and long-term future.  In addition, the festival and weekend jaunt gave me the opportunity to enjoy a memorable and cherished weekend with my mother–her company made a special weekend even more of a treasure.

In addition to the Trethewey experience, I purchased the new issue of The Georgia Review that is a tribute the authors in the Georgia Writers Hall of Fame; you can read more about this fantastic issue here. Another new book purchase was Charles Seabrook’s The World of the Salt Marsh,Appreciating and Protecting the Tidal Marshes of the Southeastern Atlantic Coast a book I’m looking forward to reading over the holidays.  I also highly recommend his marvelous Cumberland Island:  Strong Women, Wild Horses.  

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I’d like to thank all the organizers of the festival for bringing in Trethewey as well as the other gifted writers, local and national.  If you haven’t attended this wonderful event, put it on your “must do” list for the future! I’m including a video clip I shot at the festival of Trethewey reading “Elegy”, the opening poem of Thrall; you can learn more about the poem in this excellent article in The Atlantic.

Bonus Content:  “Why I Write: Natasha Trethewey on Poetry, History, and Social Justice”