Native Guard: Poetry is Natasha Trethewey’s third book of poetry and the work which earned her a Pulitzer Prize in Poetry. The title concerns a group of black Civil War soldiers who were stationed along the Mississippi Coast, protecting the land that caused them strife during their lives. But the book doesn’t only concern those soldiers. They are representative of Trethewey, acting as a Native Guard for her mother and her home.
My favorite element of Trethewey’s collection was her mixture of personal past as a biracial Mississippian and recorded history. She balances the memory of her own life and of her mother’s, while examining the South contradictory behavior towards race. Tretheway’s writing was also refreshing in its restrained, complex emotion and visually entertaining style. It appears that she is very considerate in her wording; every article in every line seems deliberate and necessary to the work as a whole.
One of my favorite poems, “Providence,” is a great example of her style and wording abilities. In “Providence,” Trethewey uses her format of words in an unusual way, deciding on their stylistic position on a line. While the spacing of words far away from the previous line or the use of several indentations creates a more interesting image than a straight edge left alignment, it also slows readers down; however, I think that her indentations fit her words, and that the slow reading of the lines is deliberate and masterful. Such an unbalanced pace creates an interesting overall effect that helps the reader to interpret meaningful images and events.
My only complaint concerning the Native Guard collection is that I would have preferred even more of Trethewey’s personal history instead of actual, textual history, such as in “Scenes from a Documentary History of Mississippi.” I understand that her setting has been what has formed her personality and dictated her relationships with others, but perhaps her other poems were able to lead us to that conclusion on their own. Trethewey’s writing is beautiful and subtle, but sometimes a large amount of factual, museum tour information can weigh down the poetry for readers more interested in an emotional connection.
Overall, the collection was successful in capturing my heart and imagination, and it read as a consistent, completed work, telling its own story of growing up in the South and embracing the setting and culture that ancestors leave behind. Trethewey takes the reader on a full-circle Southern journey, giving each reader her commentary on events past.
Native Guard: Poetry