My name is Natasha Trethewey, and I was born in Gulfport, Mississippi, in 1966, exactly 100 years to the day that Mississippi celebrated the first Confederate Memorial Day, April 26, 1866.
I know that my tendency is to be linear, and I’m trying to find ways to subvert that. And so in ‘Bellocq’s Ophelia’ my device for subverting it was to tell the story and then to tell it again; it always circles back to this one moment, and it’s not linear, but it’s round in that way, and much of ‘Native Guard’ is like that.
I was always very aware of the nature of the place where I was growing up in Gulfport, Mississippi, how that place was shaping my experience of the world. I had to go to the Northeast for graduate school because I felt like I had to get far away from my South, be outside it, to understand it.
I’ve been telling my students, ‘Imitate, imitate.’ And they say, ‘Well, what if I plagiarize, or what if I’m not original? I want to be myself.’ And I always tell them, ‘Your self will shine through’… If you allow yourself to feel deeply and honestly, what you say won’t be like anyone else.
Poetry’s a thing that belongs to everyone.
It is a tremendous honor to be named poet laureate, but one that I find humbling as well, because it’s the kind of thing that makes me feel like – even as it’s been bestowed upon me – I must continue to live up to what it means… Being the younger laureate in the age of social media is a new challenge.
The entirety of ‘Bellocq’s Ophelia’ was a project, and I was interested in doing research and looking at photographs and writing about them, imagining this woman Ophelia and what her life was like and the kinds of things she thought about.
Writers, particularly poets, always feel exiled in some way – people who don’t exactly feel at home, so they try to find a home in language.
When I write notes in my journal, I’m just trying to scribble down as much as possible. Later on, I decide whether to follow some of those first impressions or whether to abandon them.
When I was born here in Gulfport in 1966, my parents’ interracial marriage was still illegal, and it was very hard to drive around town with my parents, to be out in public with my parents.