SHARJAH: Poet Laureate of the United States Natasha Trethewey not only writes from the heart, but also allows her heart to speak for her. “My reasons for writing poetry have everything to do with history, to make sense of it and of social justice,” she declared in an exclusive interview to The Gulf Today.
She was speaking after a reading session held at the American University of Sharjah on Monday, where she was joined by Christopher Merrill, award-winning poet and Director of the International Writing Programme at the University of Iowa.
Natasha is known for focusing on eulogies and commemorating her own personal losses. “But generally, I do write a lot about history. I have written about the Civil War and legacy of the Civil War and the civil rights movement,” she says.
According to her, it is hard to see what is happening around the world. “I see so much about people, particularly women, offering testimonies to people talking about justice and wanting to find justice for themselves!”
That is where her reactions to the Arab Spring rushed in. She was literally in tears when talking about the events unfurling in the Middle East.
“I am affected by the ongoing trials we all face as human beings and pursuit of justice. To see conflicts that happen again and again, it makes me wonder what will save us. What will we finally listen to ... what will be the language that we can say to each other. Does poetry do that?” she asked.
In her most recent book, Natasha says she is trying to make sense of ideas about colours across the world. “I mean, ideas about mixed blood, how people think about colour gradations, oppression and what they mean.”
The Pulitzer Prize winner says she has faith in poetry because of the power of the individual voice to speak. “We are hard pressed to listen to each other sometimes because we have such ideological differences and we have different political sides, but poetry helps us to speak to each other and to hear each other. In reality, poetry helps us know the self better by knowing the other.”
At an interactive session, the reputed poet refuted a point raised by a participant that most of her poems were about sadness and stressed that they were actually inspirational. “When I write about personal loss, especially about parents, the subject matter is naturally going to be sad. But all of those poems are inspiring, showing the happy times, pure happiness.”
The poet in her forties terms herself as a “cheerleader” for the written word. Trethewey's parents divorced when she was young and her mother was murdered in 1985 by her second husband, who she had divorced, when Trethewey was 19 years old.
Earlier, she recited a selection of works from each of her books. Some of the poems that won much applause were titled Illumination, Dreams, Monument, Incident, and Myth.