US Poet Laureate Natasha Trethewey discusses a poem about her mother while speaking to a group at the Greenville Museum of Art on Thursday afternoon. (Rhett Butler/The Daily Reflector)
By Katherine Ayers
Monday, October 29, 2012
The role of the national poet laureate should be to raise awareness of the art form, Natasha Trethewey said, and she enthusiastically performed that task in Greenville last week with a group of East Carolina University students.
Tretheway, named poet laureate on June 7, said during a visit to ECU as part of the university’s Contemporary Writers Series that one of her jobs is to raise the national consciousness to a greater appreciation of poetry.
“I think there are a lot of ways you can do it — presentations like this, meeting people one on one,” she said during a question-and-answer session at the Greenville Museum of Art prior to a public reading held later in the day.
“I want to imagine something larger than that, a (national) project a poet might undertake,” she said.
Tretheway also emphasized that someone does not have to be a poet laureate to bring attention to poetry.
“When you just say to a friend in a poetry class, ‘You’ve got to come read this,’ you’re doing the work of trying to bring poetry to a larger audience,” she said.
Tretheway, a professor at Emory University, originally wanted to be a fiction writer.
“My poetry path was based on a dare from another graduate student,” she said. “So I thought, ‘I’m going to show you how bad it can be,’ and I wrote a poem — and it actually wasn’t that bad.”
Tretheway said she left her work in her fiction professor’s mailbox. The next day, the professor came running up to her saying, “Oh Natasha, you’re a poet!”
“And I’m certain that’s because she was trying to say, ‘That’s because you’re not much of a fiction writer,’” she said amid laughter from the audience. “From then on, I became a poet.”
While many poets choose either to write only free verse or to follow formal tradition like sonnets or haikus, Tretheway intentionally tries to do both.
“I like what defies categorization,” she said. “I think it has to do with the dictates of the poem.”
She said that if she is writing about difficult subjects, sometimes the material can “get away from you” in free verse, so it is easier for her to stay within the confines of a traditional form.
Tretheway is the 19th poet laureate and the first one from the South since 1986. She was appointed to the position by Librarian of Congress James Billington and has published four books of poetry and one work on non-fiction.
She received a Pulitzer Prize for “Native Guard,” a collection of poems dedicated to her mother’s memory.
via The Daily Reflector.