Natasha Trethewey is named 19th poet laureate of the US


Natasha Trethewey photo courtesy of AP files


The Huffington Post reports that Natasha Tretheway, Emory University Writing Professor has been named the 19th US poet laureate:

“A poet-historian representing a younger generation of writers will soon take office on Capitol Hill, overlooking the politicians in a lesser-known post enshrined in federal law.

The Library of Congress named Natasha Trethewey on Thursday to be its
19th U.S. poet laureate with a mission to share the art of poetry with a
wider audience. The 46-year-
old English and creative writing professor
at Atlanta’s Emory University distinguished herself early, winning the
Pulitzer Prize in 2007.” Read more here.

Are you wondering what a poet laureate does? They are basically poetry ambassadors, liaisons between the ivory tower and the person on the street, between academia and the general public. Here is an overview from Wikipedia:

“Currently, the laureate receives a $35,000 annual stipend; it was originally funded by a gift from Archer M. Huntington. On October 3, 1985, the U.S. Congress passed legislation, authored by Senator Spark M. Matsunaga of Hawaii, to change the title of the position to Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry. The Library keeps to a minimum the specific duties in order to afford
incumbents maximum freedom to work on their own projects while at the
Library. The laureate gives an annual lecture and reading of his or her
poetry and usually introduces poets in the Library’s poetry series, the
oldest in the Washington area and among the oldest in the United States.
This annual series of public poetry and fiction readings, lectures,
symposia, and occasional dramatic performances began in the 1940s.
Collectively the Laureates have brought more than 2,000 poets and
authors to the Library to read for the Archive of Recorded Poetry and
Literature.

Each consultant has brought a different emphasis to the position. Maxine Kumin started a popular series of poetry workshops for women at the Library of Congress. Gwendolyn Brooks met with elementary school students to encourage them to write poetry. Joseph Brodsky initiated the idea of providing poetry in airports, supermarkets and hotel rooms. Rita Dove, considered the first activist poet laureate, brought together writers to explore the African diaspora through the eyes of its artists, championed children’s poetry and jazz with poetry events and read at the White House during Bill Clinton’s first state dinner. Robert Hass
organized a “Watershed” conference that brought together noted
novelists, poets and storytellers to talk about writing, nature and
community, and co-founded the River of Words K-12 international children’s poetry and art contest. Robert Pinsky initiated the Favorite Poem Project.”


Sample poem by Natasha Trethewey
(you can read more of her poetry here):

Kitchen Maid with Supper at Emmaus, or The Mulata     
by Natasha Trethewey

    —after the painting by Diego Velàzquez, ca. 1619

She is the vessels on the table before her:
the copper pot tipped toward us, the white pitcher
clutched in her hand, the black one edged in red
and upside down. Bent over, she is the mortar
and the pestle at rest in the mortar—still angled
in its posture of use. She is the stack of bowls
and the bulb of garlic beside it, the basket hung
by a nail on the wall and the white cloth bundled
in it, the rag in the foreground recalling her hand.
She’s the stain on the wall the size of her shadow—
the color of blood, the shape of a thumb. She is echo
of Jesus at table, framed in the scene behind her:
his white corona, her white cap. Listening, she leans
into what she knows. Light falls on half her face.